Toward Developing Transpersonal Psychology
as a Scientific Field

Harris Friedman
Private Practice, Fort Myers, Florida


The importance of developing the field of transpersonal psychology as a science is considered. Arguments from romanticism, scientism, and constructionism that deny the possibility of the field becoming a science are countered. A distinction is drawn between the field as a science and the broader area known as transpersonal studies which may legitimately use scientific or nonscientific methods. The concept of transpersonal phenomena is delineated from that of transcendent noumena, the latter being seen as outside of the purview of science. Scientific basics applicable to the field are discussed and a number of anti-scientific beliefs prevalent in the field are challenged. The utility of continuing to use the term transpersonal psychology as opposed to spiritual psychology is discussed and speculation is made about the field's potential for contributions toward both providing a unifying paradigm for the discipline of psychology and solving crucial problems in the world.

Transpersonal psychology is a field inspired by a beautiful vision that has never found a coherent frame of reference from which to progress. In spite of numerous attempts to define it (e.g. Lajoie & Shapiro, 1992; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993), it still founders in ambiguity. In addition, little progress in understanding transpersonal phenomena has occurred since the founding of the field. In this paper, I consider the importance of specifying transpersonal psychology as a scientific field and propose some strategies to further its progress as a science.

Reasons to Restrict the Field to Science

There are three pragmatic reasons offered as to why transpersonal psychology should be unambiguously restricted to scientific approaches. First, transpersonal psychology was clearly instituted as a field that was meant to be part of the larger discipline of scientific psychology. The major founders of transpersonal psychology were clearly invested in extending the rigorous scientific discipline of psychology beyond the conventional boundaries of psychoanalytical, behavioral, and humanistic psychology. Their purpose was not to abandon science as exemplified by the statement in the first issue of the major publication which initially launched the field, as follows: "The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with the publication of theoretical and applied research, original contributions, empirical papers, articles and studies in..." (Sutich, 1969, p. 16). Thereafter, a number of diverse content areas related to what topics the field was envisioned as encompassing are listed. Clearly this was a scientific agenda being offered.

Second, since the discipline of psychology is clearly identified as a science by the majority of psychologists and also by the larger society, the field of transpersonal psychology claims explicitly through its name to being part of that discipline. Likewise it is attributed the rewards of scientific status through its association with psychology. For example, professional psychological services are provided in a context that is legitimized by the state on the rationale that scientific standards are being utilized as the basis for such practice. This legitimization entails specific benefits to practitioners as provided through licensing laws. A practitioner operating outside of the scientific framework in providing applied services offered through a professional license would be seen as violating this implicit contract. It is legally well established that psychologists who use approaches that are not scientifically justifiable can be sanctioned for professional discipline such as loss of their licenses to practice. In addition, there may be civil penalties, enforced through malpractice action, and even criminal penalties for licensed professionals operating in nonscientific fashions. Furthermore, if nonscientific approaches were to be allowed as a legitimate part of professional practice by applied transpersonal psychologists, it would create a situation of inequity that would be discriminatory against other practitioners such as religious healers who also might use similar nonscientific methods yet not be allowed a comparable professional license and its accompanying privileges. Even in the academic and scholarly arenas, transpersonal psychologists accrue benefits due to their attributed scientific status, such as in receiving greater public acceptance in their authority as experts. Consequently, it is not legally or ethically defensible to allow practices that are not scientifically based within the field of transpersonal psychology.

Finally, and most importantly, in regard to the need for the development of a scientific transpersonal psychology, it is crucial for human survival and betterment in our current culture and time. If the field is relegated to being just a collection of unscientific folk traditions, it would be at best superfluous since such traditions abound everywhere and have little likelihood of helping humanity in any progressive way. If the field is used to promulgate any religious or spiritual folk tradition, under a falsely assumed scientific label, the deception could be damaging in many ways, including in undermining the possibility of the further scientific development of the field. The best hope for lasting solutions to many of the grave problems humans, and the earth itself, face at this time must be addressed through psychological, rather than technical, progress. For example, although pressures of escalating over population in third world nations could be eased through further attempts toward increasing agricultural output, such as through technical advances in genetically altering crops, this type of solution is likely not to prove sustainable but only to postpone overpopulation breaking points. Psychological solutions, such as changing core attitudes toward reproduction that are currently embedded in religious belief systems, would be likely more effective than attempting technical solutions to these human based problems. Furthermore, the type of psychological solutions required for these crucial problems of current adaptation, both human and planetary, cannot be adequately addressed solely through the limited conceptualizations offered by mainstream psychology but require, instead, transpersonal considerations. Only transpersonal psychology allows for innovative avenues in which scientific approaches can address many of the most pressing problems that deal with our very survival as a species and the survival of our planet. In addition and beyond mere deficit motivations, a scientific transpersonal psychology is required for the optimum development of our human potential. To throw away the unique promise offered by transpersonal psychology through rejecting the proper role of science in the field would be not only irresponsible but even tragic.

In summary, based on the historic roots of the field, the ethical and legal implications of its connection with the discipline of scientific psychology, and the importance of the field for human survival and betterment, transpersonal psychology should be bound to a scientific commitment. Those who wish to abandon scientific approaches to pursue their transpersonal work should be unfettered as long as they use a broader term, such as transpersonal studies, to describe their work. Those who elect to associate their work with the field of transpersonal psychology need to be aware of the implications of their choice. In particular, those who foster their own religious or spiritual beliefs through their work should cease promoting that as within the field of transpersonal psychology.

Opposition to Science from Romanticism, Scientism, and Constructionism

Having argued reasons for advocating for the scientific approach to transpersonal psychology, this discussion focuses on whether or not such a science can be created. This is a difficult issue that directly confronts whether transpersonal psychology can appropriately be within the domain of science. If it cannot be adequately resolved that the field of transpersonal psychology is at least potentially within the domain of science, all of the concerns in this paper are moot. To begin, the positions of those who are hostile to the possibility of a scientific transpersonal psychology need to be considered. For simplicity, three opposing positions will be explored that I deem to fit under the respective labels of romanticism, scientism, and constructionism.

The side identified with romanticism poses the greatest current threat to the development of a scientific transpersonal psychology. As a movement that has long opposed the scientific approach in all spheres, it can be characterized in relationship to transpersonal psychology as being furthered by advocates who emphasize feelings more than cognitions toward transpersonal issues. Those who hold these feelings are frequently lacking in intellectual clarity and often actively resist translating their feelings into thoughts. When they are pressured to articulate their feelings, they tend to appeal to concepts such as faith in lieu of using rational arguments. Most advocates of romanticism seem to doubt both the value and even possibility of a scientifically based transpersonal psychology. To be fair, some who are less extreme argue cogently that the methods of romanticism provide initial ways to explore important topics that are not yet amenable to scientific approaches, such as "poetic, intuitive, and visionary states" (Schneider, 1998, p. 284). I accept that, even if these methods do not meet the criteria of science, they may still be legitimate and worthwhile scholarly efforts within transpersonal studies but they should not be viewed as within a scientific transpersonal psychology. The positions of romanticists thus ranges from those who forthrightly dismiss any applicability of science to the field to those who posit a more moderate view that science one day may have utility in regard to the transpersonal realm but currently is inadequate for the task.

The former type of romanticism poses a severe challenge to the field. There are those, for example, who take such romanticism as a license to naively accept, and promulgate, all sorts of questionable beliefs and practices without benefit of the critical discrimination that a scientific perspective would lend. This is, furthermore, often reinforced by benefits provided through such a stance. Clinical practitioners with this attitude, for example, may rely on whatever happens in a psychotherapy session without having to tax their skills with using rational treatment strategies or having responsible concern for outcomes. Thus they may comfortably serve, or exploit, their clients without any accountability, at least until the regulators and litigators arrive as surely they must. In addition, romanticism can lucratively be used to sell questionable transpersonal works, such as the numerous ludicrous books and seminars pandered to a naïve public. In fact, it has almost become a cliché that including the terms "spirit" or "soul" in such work increases its payoff.

Transpersonal psychology needs to take a difficult stance and begin to consistently and rigorously examine itself by exploring the appropriateness of including this extreme romanticism within the field. As an example, one poignant question is "Should astrology be allowed inclusion as a part of transpersonal psychology?" Even though the various systems of astrology are so filled with nonscientific assumptions and fail to demonstrate any consistent evidence, there are numerous professionals who openly promote this folk system in their teachings, writings, and even as part of their practices. I strongly advocate that scientific studies on astrology, such as exploring the antecedents and consequences of belief in astrology, are appropriate material for a scientific transpersonal psychology. Likewise, it is appropriate to continue to scientifically explore the validity of systems of astrology, although I think that the lack of evidence thus far is such that serious investigators would likely not want to invest their time further in this direction. However, it is deplorable to write or teach about astrology in any way other than as an unsubstantiated folk tradition or, worse, to use astrology as part of a licensed psychological practice. This abuse exemplifies one practice steeped in romanticism that is unfortunately widely accepted within transpersonal psychology. I feel strongly that this, and similar, nonscientific practices should not be sanctioned as a legitimate part of the field. If, however, astrologers want to practice as entertainers, ministers, or anything other than under the title of transpersonal psychology, then let the buyer beware. Likewise, if in the future astrology could be scientifically shown to have some usefulness, then its inclusion may be warranted even if its usefulness is only based on a placebo effect. In regard to the myriad of other pseudo-scientific approaches used by those who embrace extreme romanticism within the field of transpersonal psychology, similarly they should be held accountable to scientific standards or should disavow their connection to the field.

A difficult issue that requires addressing in this discussion is the way in which traditional religions are handled. For example, many Western transpersonal psychologists seem to have rejected their own religious traditions but, unfortunately, have become enamored with so-called exotic traditions. In fact it can be claimed with some degree of veracity that the field of transpersonal psychology is presently characterized by the Western practice of Eastern religions in a pseudo-scientific guise. In the absence of scientific facts, why should traditional beliefs or practices from any culture that have no supporting empirical evidence be given any special credence? The same can be said for pastoral counseling in the predominantly Judeo-Christian tradition in the U.S. When potential clinical clients inquire as to whether I do Christian psychology, I like to retort with the counter question, "Do you ask your dentist if she does Christian dentistry?" After that response, I attempt to educate these individuals in a culturally sensitive way about the scientific nature of my practice. The obvious point is that science, including its applications in professional practice, should not be tied to any religious or spiritual tradition. This is not to say that insights from all traditions might not be a good source of hypotheses for beginning to scientifically explore an area, but a skeptical scientific attitude should prevail toward any source of folk tradition.

I need to explicitly state that I intend no disrespect for those in any religious or spiritual tradition as long as they both do not try to pass their tradition as science and do not try to stop scientific inquiry. As the recent challenge to the teaching of evolution, as opposed to creationism, in Kansas, USA exemplifies, the attempt to suppress science by religion is still a reality in our world today. In regard to the attempt to stop scientific progress, I recently saw a television show in which Steven Hawking was meeting with the Catholic Pope who told him that it was good that Hawking helped us scientifically understand the first moments after creation but then admonished Hawking not to dare look at the actual event of creation, presumably since that would be violating something considered sacred. Obviously, scientific progress in the field of transpersonal psychology may be threatening to those who believe in various folk traditions.

A romanticism that lacks discrimination in regard to numerous prevailing folk beliefs and unsubstantiated claims has unfortunately proliferated within transpersonal psychology. This has encouraged a perspective in which rational scrutiny has been placed in abeyance such that there is no difference perceived among, metaphorically speaking, gold and pyrite, not to mention denying that feet may be of mere clay. Thus many in transpersonal psychology have unfortunately taken the position of affirming everything claiming to be spiritual, particularly if it is from an Eastern tradition, as gold. In contrast, I believe strongly we can and must distinguish gold from baser metals and, even more importantly, simple clay. The reasoning behind the Sufi aphorism, "There would not be counterfeiters if there were not real gold," applies to the possibility that the huge number of romantic approaches in the field alludes at least to the possibility of value in the transpersonal area. These excesses from romanticism may have some role in the larger scheme of things but only scientific discrimination can allow us to reliably and validly distinguish what is of value from the fake. Likewise, those who from the position of romanticism dogmatically embrace only one specific tradition, seeing gold only within that tradition, need to consider that other traditions may also be gold and that, indeed, their own tradition may contain baser elements. Embracing romanticism thus provides a disservice to the potentials offered by a scientific transpersonal psychology.

In dramatic contrast to the rejection of the field by advocates of extreme romanticism, there is a similar rejection by those who advocate what can be called scientism. This is characterized by an attitude that outwardly appears similar to science but is actually dominated by a rigid and closed-minded view. It should be noted that scientism is not a legitimate aspect of the scientific approach per se, since openness is a core scientific value that is complementary to skepticism, but instead is a perversion of science that has been corrupted into a parochial ideology. Science should, on the other hand, never be an ideology but instead is an approach to knowledge that is grounded in respect for experience. It is unfortunate that some adherents to scientism have dismissed the entire field of transpersonal psychology as fundamentally irrational and, therefore, not amenable to scientific approaches. Ellis (1989) has written the best expression of this misguided approach as he has totally rejected the field of transpersonal psychology through engaging in catastrophic thinking, a type of cognitive error he made famous. In this book, he regards the transpersonal perspective to hold no value for scientific psychology and he views transpersonal psychology as thoroughly dangerous. Those who embrace scientism in rejecting the field in this way, however, err through confusing the lack of critical discrimination and excesses among those embracing extreme romanticism that is endemic in the field with the over generalized conclusion that the field as a whole lacks any potential value and only poses perils. This conclusion is not realistically based on any limitation inherent in transpersonal psychology as a science per se, only in fear toward the consequences of unbridled romanticism. It should also be stated, however, that this type of fear is not totally unwarranted given the problems rampant in the field.

I find it fascinating that the positions of both romanticism and scientism, appearing antithetical on the surface, are actually in fundamental agreement, namely in rejecting prematurely the possibility that transpersonal psychology can be adequately viewed from a scientific perspective. Those who embrace romanticism need to consider the futility of romantic speculation that is not based on empirical observations. They should ponder the prospects of their efforts helping to bring in an unfortunate variety of a New Age, namely a New Dark Age in which speculating on such concerns as to the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin is again taken seriously. Likewise, those who embrace scientism need to consider the narrowness of their approach in light of the scientific value of openness as opposed to an overly closed-minded skepticism. The conclusion I draw is that neither of these protests against the applicability of science to the field can be substantiated and, therefore, a science of transpersonal psychology cannot be dismissed based on these concerns.

In addition to romanticism and scientism, another threat to the possibility of the field becoming a science stems from the nihilism that occurs in a variety of forms of so-called post-modern thought, usually identified with a movement known as constructionism, a term frequently prefaced with adjectives such as social or cognitive (e.g. Gergen, 1994). Specifically, this approach emphasizes that human knowledge is always constructed in some fashion by knowers who bring various baggage with them. Thus all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is perceived as an artifact that does not exist in any independently real way. Furthermore this construction always is seen in a context that is limited not only by material constraints but mediated by culture, that is those who control social power also control the way in which knowledge is constructed. Therefore, the argument follows that knowledge is always relative and that there is never an absolute truth but rather only limited constructed viewpoints that are necessarily equivocal. This position reminds me of the Zen koan, "If a tree fall in the forest and no one hears it, has it really fallen?"

The assumptions of constructionism are, in themselves, useful observations about limitations inherent in all knowledge claims. One unfortunate conclusion that has frequently been drawn from this perspective, however, is to honor and dishonor all viewpoints equally in terms of their validity claims. This obviates the privilege of science as the defining method for pursuing knowledge and, even, the value of any knowledge.

As applied to the field of transpersonal psychology, assumptions from constructionism may be exaggerated in a particularly problematic way. For example, the recognition of knowledge limitations widely accepted in the physical sciences, such as from the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that demonstrates that we cannot simultaneously know the position and speed of electrons, has eroded the unquestioned authority of scientific methods in general. Constructs such as consciousness and freewill that are assumed relevant to all human sciences have further undermined the legitimacy of science as applied to the discipline of psychology. This is expressed through various versions of the argument that the limitations of science in the material world are eclipsed by the magnitude of the additional limitations science faces in dealing with the greater complexity inherent in the human world. Finally, in the field of transpersonal psychology, science is often blatantly dismissed as irrelevant. This often is related to arguments based on transpersonal concepts that openly defy basic scientific assumptions. For example, one such scientific assumption is the presumed requirement of the independence of subject and object in any valid observation or experiment. This assumption is brought into question, however, by constructs such as transpersonal self-expansiveness (Friedman, 1983) in which the individual is conceptualized as possibly surpassing limitations that allow for any absolute subject-object dichotomy. Thus the uncertainty recognized through the Heisenberg principal in all of science is magnified by the unique concerns of human, as opposed to natural, science which then is further increased in the transpersonal field, bringing doubt to the ultimate worth of science in the field. In conclusion, constructionism is bolstered by these types of legitimate concerns about scientific limitations and provides a potent challenge to the hegemony of science in transpersonal psychology, as well as to science in general.

Constructionism has its merits but, sadly, is often used to justify the indiscriminant beliefs and irresponsible behaviors that abound in the field. In this regard, I think transpersonal psychology needs to directly face the implications of this reasoning, namely that it leads to an inevitable nihilistic quandary in which no progress can be made. The fact that this is implicit is reason enough to seek alternatives and, in itself, comprises one basis for justifying its refutation. One of the tenets of pragmatism is that beliefs can be accepted or rejected based on their implications. Thus, if a line of reasoning leads to a dead end, this constitutes a clear limitation in terms of the lack of fruitfulness in that approach and is pragmatic grounds for rejecting the approach.

There are several alternative positions to constructionism that can contribute to this discussion. One is to posit firmly that aspects of reality can be known, at least to some degree, in ways that are not just merely cognitively or socially constructed. For example, there may be differences among language users from different cultures as to how they might discuss the ways to climb a mountain. In addition, the basic nature of the language used by different groups climbing such a mountain, such as Western climbers as opposed to Sherpa guides, may be structured in vastly divergent ways and emphasize varying aspects of salient phenomena. There may even be subtle but very important meaning implications of higher order aspects of language such as culturally distinct metaphors used. Furthermore, there might even be important differences among members of the same culture who share the same language in regard to the mountain, such as contrasting female climbers who might approach the challenge with fundamentally different meanings for them as opposed to male climbers. Nevertheless, the mountain appears to solidly exist as an independent reality regardless of how it is described linguistically. Thus significant relativism from the perspective of constructionism might primarily involve the meanings of the reality, not the reality itself. Remember the Zen saying, "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." One interpretation of this is that, after completing a mystical journey in which reality is deconstructed, reality is once more reconstructed and realized in both senses of that word. On assuming such a realist position, one might argue further that to deny the fundamental reality of the mountain, and its dangers, would be foolhardy tantamount to death if one were called upon to climb the mountain. In spite of the current popularity of constructionism in the humanities and among some in the social sciences, realism is not only viable but still is the main philosophical underpinnings of most of contemporary science. Nevertheless, it has been aptly pointed out that, "As we enter the twenty-first century, we psychologists are having trouble with reality" (Martin & Sugarman, 1999, p. 177), particularly in the attempt to reconcile modern with post-modern perspectives.

Another alternative to the constructionist argument is that of a positivism that approaches science as a language game of theory building. From this perspective, science should avoid claims about truth but, instead, should only offer theories that progressively become more elegant and closely related to empirical data through their refinement over time. Truth, at least in relationship to any underlying reality, is to purists from a positivist perspective irrelevant. What is relevant is the ability of a model to be useful in the game of science. This strategy is illustrated by the classic scientific use of the null hypothesis, a clever ploy in which scientists construct hypothetical alternative explanations to challenge their theoretical formulations. The scientific method then proceeds by attempting to nullify, or disprove, these alternative hypotheses. This method does not allow for directly trying to prove hypotheses supportive of the theory being entertained, as that would be attempting to affirm something as true, but instead attempts to whittle down alternative explanations so that the theory offered becomes either increasingly more compelling or is found to have problems and is rejected. The absolute truth of any theory is thus irrelevant and never proved through the positivist approach to the scientific method but, instead, the systematic rejections of the null hypotheses provide increasing circumstantial evidence to enable more confidence to build in regard to the potential usefulness of a theory. Furthermore, there is the expectation that a theory is always a work in progress and will be revised as more is known; all theory is therefore seen as relative, that is our best understanding at the moment.

Thus, in spite of the current popularity of constructionism and the frequent bashing of both realism and positivism in much of the transpersonal literature, science based on positivism and realism is still viable. Unfortunately, it is easy for those who read transpersonal literature, and who are not conversant with modern science except through transpersonal pop science, to misconstrue the importance of post-modernism in general and constructionism in particular. Science clearly remains the dominant worldview and is not about to be replaced by a constructionist revolution that would immobilize it. Furthermore, most scientists do not engage in much philosophical reflection as they proceed in doing science since the scientific method provides such obvious results. In this regard, it should be noted that philosophers of science who worry about such things stand in relationship to those who do science much as literary critics are in relationship to authors. In spite of the critics, the great literary artists continue to produce and, likewise, the process of science is basically oblivious to the implications of constructionism. Thus most scientists implicitly embrace realist and positivist perspectives and avoid the nihilistic quandary of constructionism. That so many transpersonal psychologists have jumped on the constructionist bandwagon as justification for abandoning science is truly counterproductive. In my opinion, the extreme nihilistic implications of constructionism will eventually be seen as an intellectual dead end similar to the type of paradoxes offered by the ancient Greeks that demonstrated the impossibility of change (e.g. the proof that the hare could never catch up with the tortoise who was given a head-start in a race). At the same time, constructionism has been useful in further sensitizing us to potential bias issues, such as power and position differences among those contributing to science.

Study in the field of transpersonal psychology does involve some specific philosophical difficulties from a scientific perspective but, of course, all sciences struggle with their unique problems. Even though constructionism provides some clear insight into scientific limitations, it does not demonstrate that science is irrelevant to transpersonal psychology. Furthermore, arguments from extreme romanticism and scientism should outright be rejected. I conclude that finding ways to proceed with a science of transpersonal psychology should be ardently pursued.

Important Distinctions to Facilitate Scientific Progress in the Field

To further this discussion, an important distinction to which allusion has been previously made in this paper needs to be formally established, namely that transpersonal studies and transpersonal psychology are not equivalent. The former is a broadly defined domain of inquiry that can legitimately include a diversity of methods ranging from those of the humanities to those of a variety of scientific endeavors. Psychology, on the other hand, is defined by most as a scientific discipline that emphasizes the individual level of analysis, such as thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Except for a few humanistic and transpersonal adherents who insist that including alternative, that is nonscientific, approaches is important for the discipline, science is widely accepted as the mainstay of the discipline of psychology. A preliminary conceptualization of transpersonal psychology that is seen as useful, therefore, is to place it as a field of study and applied practice positioned at the intersection between the broader domain of inquiry known as transpersonal studies and the scientific discipline of psychology. Furthermore, transpersonal psychology, though interrelated closely to both transpersonal studies and psychology, is seen foremost as a field within the discipline of scientific psychology that focuses on transpersonal phenomena.

With a focus on scientifically approaching the individual level of analysis from a transpersonal perspective, the field of transpersonal psychology can draw upon content common to diverse fields of transpersonal studies, such as transpersonal folk beliefs found in either New Age or traditional religious systems. As a field of psychology, however, it requires responsible utilization of the scientific approach in exploring any relevant material, such as submitting transpersonal folk beliefs applicable to the individual level of analysis to rigorous scientific examination. This leads to the argument that all nonscientific approaches to transpersonal material are better viewed as distinct from transpersonal psychology and classified, instead, as within the broader domain of transpersonal studies. Likewise, approaches that are not at the individual level of analysis, regardless of whether scientific or not, are best left for specialists in other transpersonal fields, such as transpersonal anthropologists or scholars in comparative religions.

Unfortunately, the domain of transpersonal studies is often confounded with the field of transpersonal psychology, these terms being frequently used interchangeably. This has led to a morass of confusion that, hopefully, this distinction clarifies. In addition, the present argument is not oriented toward delimiting the methods used by transpersonal studies in any way and it is explicitly acknowledged that methods from that domain of studies could be either scientific in nature or representative of other approaches of knowing that are legitimate but not within the realm of science, such as hermeneutics. This argument also is specifically not oriented toward limiting any rights to spiritual or religious beliefs or expression, whether traditional or New Age. Nonscientific pursuits at the individual or any other level of analysis, however, should not be confused as within the field of transpersonal psychology as a science. Similarly, both nonscientific and scientific pursuits that do not involve the level of the individual should not be confused as part of the field either. All of these can, of course, inform and be informed by transpersonal psychology in a variety of creative ways. It is hoped that this clear distinction between transpersonal psychology and transpersonal studies can facilitate the concentration of efforts within the field of transpersonal psychology on scientific pursuits.

Another way to enable scientific progress to occur in transpersonal psychology is to overtly recognize specific areas in which science might be irrelevant and bracket them from scientific inquiry. For example, areas resisting scientific efforts since they are not yet amenable to empirical exploration, as previously mentioned, could be appropriately explored by nonscientific methods that are openly recognized as such. This type of exploration would, of course, be seen as pre-scientific in the sense that it can allow for the possibility that scientific approaches may potentially arise from its efforts but it is not yet scientific.

There is one area that has been the source of tremendous problems to transpersonal psychology since it is so intertwined with most conceptualizations of the field yet it is outside of the purview of all scientific approaches, now and in the future. This is the transcendent. Consider that the transcendent, as the ultimate holistic concept, can only be experienced, if at all, in a direct and unmediated fashion unhampered by any specific limitation. Since all concepts are inherently limited, they are inadequate vehicles for comprehending the transcendent. Consequently, transcendent experiences are beyond all conventional thought that involves symbolic mediation by words or any limiting symbol system and beyond all public discourse including science. Thus any direct experience of the transcendent, such as one of unity consciousness, would be accompanied by an over-ride or shut-down of conventional thought during the time of transcendence. In this mode, a merger of subject with object would likely occur such that the knower would cease, in any ordinary meaningful way, to be a separate individual. Since unmediated knowledge would be, by definition, experienced directly and, when the experience is over, forgotten or vaguely coded in some symbol system, one who disappeared as a separate being in transcendence would, upon reentry into the world of ordinary thought and discourse, have to rely on the tools of symbolically mediated memory of that experience after the transcendence. Even if one were to remain connected with transcendent experience while using a symbol system such as language, as in the possibility of an enlightened being, that use would necessarily be filtered through the limitations of the symbol system and thus also be limited. I conclude that transcendent speculations, therefore, exist outside of the realm of science. Philosophically, this can be expressed as an analogy to Godel's incompleteness theorem that, loosely stated, describes the impossibility of fully explaining a system through itself without recourse to some larger frame of reference. This clearly implies that the transcendent is outside of conventional understanding since nothing provides a larger frame of reference. This is also consistent with the teaching of numerous folk traditions that the highest states can only be grasped experientially and not through a language process. Thus I conclude that science is required to be mute about the ultimate issue of the transcendent since it transcends the symbolic process itself that is the sole vehicle of science.

Therefore, a major difficulty preventing scientific progress in transpersonal psychology can be avoided through making a clear conceptual delineation between the concept of the transpersonal and that of the transcendent. It is well accepted that the way in which a question is asked always predetermines, in some fashion, both its answer and even its very answerability. To reframe a question can, therefore, possibly open up an avenue for progress every bit as potent as providing an actual answer to the question. Making a distinction between the transpersonal and the transcendent leads to such a productive reframing of many transpersonal questions.

This is not an original distinction, by any means. Valle (1998), for example, contrasted transpersonal with transcendent awareness. He described the latter as prereflective, or the ground of consciousness without a subject object split, whereas he described the former as referring to experiences deeper or beyond our ordinary ego sense but not necessarily at the level of the transcendent. Thus he distinguished between the transpersonal, a level that still contains the content of self as a separate knower, in contrast to the transcendent, a level that refers to experiences that are beyond any content. From this perspective, the transcendent level goes beyond all rational description and, it needs to be conceded, is beyond the limitations of science to directly explore. However, the transpersonal realm, excluding the transcendent level, remains open to scientific study, as does the indirect relationship between indicators of the transcendent and more conventional concepts. Thus asking questions about the transcendent may be still within the realm of science as long as we recognize it is always about the transcendent and not directly addressing the transcendent. Examples of such questions that could be fruitfully posed would be the following: "How does having transcendent experiences (or at least experiences people are willing to label in such a way) change aspects of a person's life?" or "How do different religious conceptions of the transcendent relate to objective cultural or environmental sources of variability?" Thus we can scientifically study about the transcendent while we can directly study that which is non-transcendent, including transpersonal phenomena that are non-transcendent.

It should be noted that the distinction between phenomena and noumena that goes back to the ancient Greek philosophers, and is found throughout the history of Western philosophy, is applicable here, namely that science can directly study phenomena but not underlying noumena. In this regard, some transpersonal theorists might argue, that noumena should be approached only through a higher-level understanding than science can provide (e.g. the eye of spirit proposed by Wilber, 1997). Alternatively, I advocate we exclude the transcendent from direct discourse since we cannot make meaningful statements about it. This position is also congruent with the beliefs of many Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, such as the Jewish emphasis on the essential mystery of god's unknowability and the Taoist emphasis that those who speak about the Tao do not know of what they speak. In addition, it might be useful to note that there is a long history of this type of perspective in Western philosophy, going back at least to Plato's famous cave metaphor, that similarly points out limits to what can be directly known.

It is therefore considered imperative for creating a viable science of transpersonal psychology to clearly delineate the transpersonal domain into two areas that have been implicitly confounded by the field. For convenience, I am labeling these as the domain of the transcendent noumena about which we cannot intelligently conduct science and that of transpersonal phenomena that excludes the transcendent. Juxtaposing the term transpersonal with the term phenomena clearly establishes that reference is made to the non-transcendent, phenomenal, that is non-noumenal, aspects of the transpersonal domain, allowing clarity in placing this domain within the potential realm of science. This distinction provides the important advantage of clarifying the possibility of rigorous scientific examination of transpersonal phenomena without having to tackle the metaphysical morass of the direct role of science, or rather lack of role, in regard to the transcendent. With this delineation, the transcendent domain no longer remains confounded with that of transpersonal phenomena and, thus, the impossible questions, scientifically speaking, regarding the transcendent domain can be fruitfully ignored by a scientific transpersonal psychology. It should be explicitly restated, however, that phenomena related to the transcendent, like all phenomena, can be studied by science while the transcendent itself can only be scientifically studied indirectly through secondary indicators. Thus, approaches toward developing a science of transpersonal psychology that explicitly excludes the direct study of transcendent noumena provides a firmer basis for scientific progress. Of course, transcendent noumena can still be the focus of transpersonal studies that utilize nonscientific methods such as comparing poetic depictions of transcendent states.

It should be noted, however, that there is a way for science to provide an indirect comment on the transcendent. Science can possibly create a meaningfully glimpse into the transcendent through what it fails to address through any scientific framework that attempts to be comprehensive. Thus, even if something cannot be directly shown, it may be delineated through a process of pointing out what it is not. Since all that materially exists may be seen as existing within time and space, the realm of the non-transcendent can be symbolically placed on a map of space-time such as used in the construct of transpersonal self-expansiveness. That which transcends this map may be implied by its absence. This type of residual approach to the transcendent can be heuristic and is a core feature of the construct of self-expansiveness. This strategy toward approaching, but never grasping fully, transcendence is similar to how some meditative traditions stress disidentifying the self with all limitations, resulting in what is left being that with which one can not disidentify, the residual of the transcendent. From a more conventional perspective, as calculus can be used to make successive approximations to approach the true measure of the area under a curve, so can a transpersonal approach gradually like an asymptote move toward the transcendent while never quite achieving that goal. It is my opinion that to grasp the transcendent in any meaningful way would require abandoning science and directly experiencing transcendence. Thus a science of transpersonal psychology, though not dealing directly with transcendence, can elucidate the relationship of the transcendent to the world of space-time in which humans typically dwell and about which humans can meaningfully discourse. Furthermore, a transpersonal psychology limited to the domain of transpersonal phenomena, while excluding transcendent noumena, can be potentially amenable to scientific study and capable of yielding beneficial applications.

Considering that the confounding of the transcendent with the transpersonal has prohibited scientific progress in the field, the simple solution I am supporting shares in the elegant simplicity of the reconceptualizion of the apparent erratic movements of the sun and planets around the earth through the shifting of the viewer's frame of reference from geocentric to heliocentric. The result of this change in perspective was that many conceptual and methodological difficulties evaporated and scientific progress was greatly facilitated. Equally important, the paradigm shift to a heliocentric view did not require embracing any absurd romantic astrological system or adamant close-minded denial of the value in studying the heavens in new ways. Transpersonal psychology sorely needs such a revolution in perspective, one that allows for transpersonal psychology to be responsibly grounded in scientific approaches. Hopefully this explicit delineation moves the field in such a direction.

Finally, in this regard, I think it wise from a scientific perspective, to remain agnostic about the transcendent, even as to whether it meaningfully can be said to exist since it is beyond any cogent categories, even the most fundamental ones of existence and non-existence. Just as there are approaches to Judaism in which any conception of god is believed to be idolatry, likewise any attempt at a scientific conception of the transcendent seems to end in a futile nonscientific quandary. Therefore abandoning all direct speculation about the transcendent appears to be a productive scientific strategy. In regard to the proclivity of those who operate under the banner of transpersonal psychology to engage in speculation about the transcendent or, much worse, to endorse one system or another that allegedly develops transcendent qualities as part of their professional practice, it is considered imperative that they be seen as outside of the domain of the field. Of course, no religious or spiritual approaches to the transcendent need to be questioned as long as they are not promoted as part of the field of transpersonal psychology.


In order to grasp more deeply the need for a scientific perspective in the field of transpersonal psychology, it is helpful to attend to how we know anything, the field of epistemology. In particular, transpersonal psychologists who reject science as useful in the discipline are implicitly relying on other strategies for obtaining knowledge. Hence, these other strategies, including their benefits and limitations, need to be made explicit. Science, as one way of knowing, is characterized by its emphasis on empiricism, that is relying on information from our experience, as a criterion for affirming knowledge. Our experience may be based upon external sensory input, as usually emphasized in science, but also can be based on internal sources of experience such as proprioception. Our experience can also be extended through communication with others and through technology, including simple technology such as standardized self-report procedures used in conventional psychometric instruments. However, there are other ways of knowing that may or may not be more useful than the empiricism of science, depending upon circumstances.

Gaining knowledge through following an authority figure is one such way. If there is a benevolent and wise guru, it may be expedient to obtain knowledge through his authority without question. Religious traditions in general, however, are notable for asserting authority in such a fashion that it is not allowable to question that authority without being blasphemous. As one example of this, I remember being in Thailand at a time when the so-called king of the Buddhist monks was attempting to have another monk prosecuted by the state for attempting to innovate in his meditation teaching style.

One criticism often made of scientific knowledge is that it is given down through authority such that those who have not been initiated into the fold really cannot evaluate the veracity of its claims. However, at least in theory, any individual can replicate or empirically observe for themselves any process of science and draw their own conclusion, although it might takes years of training to get to the place of being capable of following the complex scientific recipe. Of course, if the observation requires an outrageously expensive piece of equipment, then only the scientifically elite have access to that option. Fortunately, science is competitive and anyone who asserts anything has an ample supply of jealous competitors to try to disprove their assertion and provide a check and balance to the system. As an aside, it is important to note in this regard that science, at least from a positivist position, technically never proves anything and does not deal in the language of truth. It just provides a method to disprove assertions and what is left over, and congruent with current ideologies and rationales, is accepted as the best approximation to the truth at the current state of scientific knowledge. This is contrary to the commonly held belief that science necessarily asserts positions on the truth. In this way, science can be highly antiauthoritarian, challenging any truth claims that are not backed up by evidence.

Another approach to gaining knowledge is through tradition, as exemplified by the common answer to why something is done a certain way with the platitude of "it has always been done that way around here." There is a martial art story about a school in which the teacher always launched his roundhouse kicks from a very awkward stance. All students dutifully followed suit, even though it made their movement slower and less powerful. One day a disrespectful student dared to ask the teacher to explain why his style differed from the other styles he had observed. The teacher explained that he learned from his master to do it this way and, hence, had unquestioningly followed the tradition. The student, unsatisfied with that explanation, sought out the teacher's master, the old and feeble grandmaster. When asked, the grandmaster stated that his knees had been damaged in a contest prior to his instructing the student's teacher and, hence, the teacher had learned a bad habit through merely imitating him. Thus the grandmaster revealed that it would be better if his students and grandstudents would kick like the other schools, but no one had ever before dared to ask him. Traditions are thus formed in interesting ways and sometimes they are useful and oftentimes they are not. In the martial art discipline of Aikido that I teach, I often hear students arguing about what approach to technique is right or wrong based on the traditions they studied. I tend to respond that the real issue is not the rightness or wrongness of any traditional approach to technique but, rather, when a technique would or would not be effective. Thus the grandmaster's kicking technique makes great sense if you have bad knees.

Another way to know is through intuition such as experienced through a felt body sense such as knowing in the bones or through a directly revealed inner symbol system such as dreams. This is a very personal way to know and can seem very powerful. Intuition by itself, however, is based on only one person's insight and is neither subject to social testing or capable of being clearly articulated and passed on to others. It can, of course, be translated into consensual symbol systems and even brought into the scientific arena in this fashion. Furthermore, intuition can mislead us as much as any tyrannical systems of authority or tradition, especially considering the numerous biases in human judgment that can alter how intuition becomes interpreted into belief or action. When intuition is accurate, it can be extremely informative. When it is inaccurate, yet blindly believed to be true, it can have disastrous consequences. The trick, then, is to be able to tell the difference between accurate and inaccurate intuition and that issue cannot be resolved at the level of intuition. I am a strong believer, for example, in the meaningfulness of dreams in my personal and professional life. How to accurately interpret these dreams, which I believe are deep intuitive revelations from my unconscious and (or perhaps superconscious?) is the rub. I know how easy it is for me to arbitrarily flip-flop from one interpretation to another for the same dream as my mood or mindset changes.

Transpersonal psychology seems to especially honor intuition as having a power beyond other ways of knowing and this is scary. I am thinking of a fellow trainee when I was learning bioenergetic analysis, a style of body-oriented psychotherapy. She was a psychologist who greatly overvalued intuition and would literally attempt to read body defense structures with her eyes closed. When she was right, she was often brilliant. When she was wrong, she was really wrong and totally out of the picture (think malpractice). Furthermore, she could not tell the difference between the two. I, on the other hand, would pay attention to as many mundane bodily details as I could manage and then attempt to understand the person's overall defensive structure. I was seldom brilliant but, also, seldom totally off the wall.

I would also like to draw, at this time, a parallel between intuition and emotional knowing. In this sense, emotions can be seen as a more primitive way of knowing, based on body arousals that are not cognitively mediated and are preverbal. They may arise from simpler brain structure such as our so-called reptilian brain. Thus intuition may have a powerful biological basis and may, indeed, be accurate for some, but this is not a way of knowing that I would exalt as more accurate than cognitive approaches based on higher brain functions. In fact, ideally I advocate for triangulation between what we cognitively know in our mammalian brain and what we might intuit in our reptilian brain or in our bodies. When they both give me a congruent reading, I have greater confidence than with either alone and, when they contradict, I tend to engage in great deliberations to ferret out a position to take.

It should be noted, as a conclusion to examining these different approaches to knowing, that social psychological experiments clearly demonstrate that the more ambiguity in a situation, the more we rely on others through a process called social comparison. In the transpersonal arena, ambiguity is maximized since we are looking for that which is customarily unseen, even though it is all around us and, indeed, we are it. Thus the realm of transpersonal psychology is particularly vulnerable to the infirmities of both misguided tradition and authority in which we tend to rely on others without question. Just as research subjects can be hypnotized into believing false memories, even conscientious meditators who are sincerely looking for truth can unwittingly be led through subtle suggestion to believe in phenomena (and concepts about transcendent noumena) that are not valid. I am not suggesting a conspiracy theory with malevolent overtones but that this process is the very essence of enculturation in the social construction of meaning and its subsequent dissemination to future carriers of that culture. Such meaning may or may not be valid in any way in spite of an illustrious history of transmission and regardless of whether underlying motive might be benevolent or otherwise. In addition, when phenomena do not easily make cognitive sense, individuals might tend to overvalue intuition. In that transpersonal phenomena are not yet well understood cognitively, that is the field of transpersonal psychology has not yet advanced far enough to adequately explain much, over valuation of intuition is rampant in this area.

The next way of knowing provides a path through which blind reliance on tradition, authority and intuition can be avoided, namely the scientific method. These other ways of knowing may, of course, be great sources of inspiration for scientific exploration. For example, all three of these can be scientifically used to produce potential knowledge in terms of hypotheses, or hunches, which then can become the source of systematic empirical testing through science. To be able to rely on experience, regardless of any authority figure or long-held tradition and even individual intuitions, provides a unique openness characteristic of science. Furthermore, because science benefits from cumulative knowledge and is inherently self-correcting, the continuous discovery of new knowledge may or may not alter what was previously believed. The power of this reliance on experience, in contrast to what may be more comfortably be accepted through authority, tradition, or intuition can be humorously illustrated by the old story of the comic who, when visibly caught in the act of philandering by his partner, quipped "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

As an aside, it is undeniable that there has been a long and destructive history of those who have intentionally defrauded others for monetary or other advantages in the transpersonal arena. Even worse has been the history of dogmatic intolerance in this area, perhaps causing more human suffering that any other aspects of human life except for greed and, possibly, racial differences. I thus maintain strongly that science, as an open system with built in checks and balances, is sorely needed in the transpersonal arena to protect consumers of both knowledge and services from exploitation. In fact, it is needed more in this than in any other field of which I can think.

Many transpersonal psychologists blatantly reject the scientific approach as too narrow, however, to be useful to transpersonal inquiry. James (1890/1950), one of the founding pioneers of psychology, argued for a broad open approach to science. He called his approach radical empiricism and, over one hundred years ago, clearly addressed much of the contemporary criticism that advocates rejecting the applicability of the scientific method to the field. I share his view of the need for a radical empiricism that can allow research into a broad range of experience.

Specifically, science may appropriately include innovative approaches that allow for exploring deeply private experiences or even those that require placing an observer in an altered state of consciousness. In this regard, even aspects of certain states of meditation that can be entered only through years of following an esoteric path can be brought into the objective and consensual domain of scientific scrutiny through use of appropriate methodologies. For example, Tart's (1975) state theory of science aptly allows for a broad view of scientific approaches that includes such techniques as gathering data through using altered states experiences. This state theory approach to science serves as an excellent example of how James' basic principles can be extended in developing innovative yet rigorous approaches to science that can fruitfully be used to explore transpersonal phenomena that were previously thought to be unavailable for scientific research. Finally, while this type of scientific approach might require researchers to devote years toward mastering a meditation technique in order to research a type of transpersonal phenomenon, it is not so dissimilar from the need for researchers in areas of conventional science to take years to master their techniques, as illustrated by the fact that learning the skills to use a radio telescope to observe astronomical phenomena is not an overnight effort.

As a concluding topic in discussing epistemology, it appears to be gaining in popularity to consider science, rather than blatantly dismissing it, as only one among a plurality of appropriate methods for knowing within transpersonal psychology. One noteworthy proponent of the value of a plurality of approaches to the field is Wilber (1996). He admirably argues that science has its proper place but also unfortunately argues that the field should not be limited to just scientific approaches and, in fact, that many aspects of the transpersonal should be appropriately known only through other methods. Consequently, it is important to briefly examine Wilber's criticisms of science as applied to transpersonal psychology.

Interior and Exterior Approaches to Knowing

Wilber makes an epistemological distinction with important implications for the field that requires addressing as a separate topic. This distinction is between interior (subjective) and exterior (objective) modes of knowledge that can, in turn, be viewed as either individual or collective which creates a four-fold conception of approaches to knowing. He advocates for utilizing all the different knowledge approaches, including science, when appropriate. He does not, however, privilege science above other modes of knowing and, instead, postulates that other ways of knowing are not only equivalent in value but preferable in certain circumstances, including in understanding interior transpersonal issues. Wilber's epistemology therefore postulates that science, as an exterior way, is not valid for accessing interior experiences such as transpersonal ones that he believes can be appropriately understood only through subjective means.

Wilber's approach is based on a paradoxical dualism. Inner experience at the individual, or "I" level, is never completely separate from the outer that always encompasses the individual. For example, the very process used in most thought consists of an inner dialogue typically based on language acquired through interaction with the outer world. Even more so, the sense of shared community, or the "we" level, is likewise dependent on outer activities such as language or other culturally mediated behaviors. Furthermore, it is also true that the individual ("I") or social collection of individuals ("we") can ultimately only know the outer from the perspective of inner experience.

Wilber's argument further suffers from the problem that outer knowledge, when taken to its logical extreme, becomes inevitably knowledge of its own limits, or inner knowledge. For example, as our scientific knowledge grows, we encounter the subjectivity inherent in all scientific experience, that is all external empirical data is ultimately evaluated in inner experience. The fact that a large percentage of words in the English language derive their ultimate etymological origins through inner, mostly body, references demonstrates that the language of the outer is to some extent based on inner experience. The opposite is also inevitable, that is inner knowledge is based on and leads back, ultimately, to outer knowledge. For example, as we turn inward in mediation, we discover how our very categories of inner experience are environmentally, including socially, structured. One important implication of separating inner and outer is to consider what might happen at transcendence when both would seem to necessarily merge into a unity, analogical to how conventional physical forces such as gravity are thought to no longer operate in the singularity of a black hole. By embracing a dualistic view of knowing, Wilber seems to defeat his purpose of helping lead humankind toward an ascending path of unity.

As a final critique of Wilber's epistemology, any subjective or inner approach to understanding the transpersonal is doomed to solipsism unless it can be expressed in some fashion. Such an expression would, by necessity, take it to the outer world and subject it to critical examination, the scientific method providing the most rigorous of such possible examinations. In his effort to refute what he calls flat-land reductionism, reducing all of reality to objective knowledge, Wilber concludes that any exclusive use of objective language in describing inner reality is an error of reductionism. However, if we try to communicate in any way about the inner, including internal communication (thought), we necessarily move to the outer. In this regard, it is useful to see the distinction between inner and outer ways of knowing as a semantic artifact that is problematic since both the categories of inner and outer are mutually dependent, like two sides of the same coin.

In contrast to Wilber's position, I maintain that objective approaches based on extending our current materialistic frame of reference have the best potential for liberating us from the confines of a narrow subjectivism. Though such a scientific approach may be grounded in a materialistic worldview, it could be open-ended and allow for the needed rigorous examination of transpersonal phenomena. I believe, in fact, that Western physics is already well on the way to providing a reconciliation between materialism and a larger framework compatible with a transpersonal perspective as we transcend the limits of our natural language approaches toward understanding through the more sophisticated language of mathematical expressions. Psychology, including transpersonal psychology, can and should follow suit in this type of scientific exploration.

Some of the limitations of Wilber's distinction between inner and outer knowing can be concretely illustrated through the example of an approach to measuring a transpersonal construct, the Self-Expansiveness Level Form (SELF), through an objective procedure (Friedman, 1983). At first glance the SELF seems to be only an external measure that is constructed through scientific psychometric principles. Examined more closely, however, this SELF is seen as consisting of statements that are phenomenological descriptions of potential aspects of an individual's experienced world. These are framed within a space-time map constituting a materialistic reference that includes a transpersonal perspective. Respondents are asked to relate to these statements through their willingness to identify with items using a rating scale. The identification process asked is not just from an objective, exterior view that is inherently reductionary but, rather, requires an experienced decision by respondents who have to weigh each statement on the scale of willingness given to them to use. Thus this process is both inner and outer.

It should also be noted that any self-report method, though objective and standardized, is still a dialogue. Data collected through such a method is not obtained just through the exterior, such as in a behavioral observation, but is obtained through questioning. Furthermore, though respondents may have to put their response into a structured frame of possible answers limited by the method used, still it is their response from their interior to the stimuli that constitutes the data and this has been obtained through the dialogue of the test.

One major contribution of empirical research on the SELF has been the consistent demonstration that observable patterns can occur when measuring a transpersonal construct in spite of semantic and other sources of variability (MacDonald, Gagnier, & Friedman, 2000; MacDonald, Tsagarakis, & Holland, 1994; Friedman, 1983). In my opinion, the empirical fact that transpersonal self-expansiveness can be measured reliably using a conventional scientific approach contradicts Wilber's thesis that science is inadequate for gaining relevant understanding regarding what he calls interiors such as transpersonal phenomena. It is unfortunate that Wilber, as a recognized leader in the field, has structured his view of the role of science in a way that has inadvertently supported romanticism by encouraging the embracing of subjective approaches that unnecessarily limit the value of science. The research results on the SELF provides a important refutation of the dualism drawn between inner and outer methods and empirically demonstrates that science combining both can be fruitfully used in the field.

Consequently, I believe we need to avoid this morass of separating inner and outer ways of knowing and, likewise, avoid reliance on tradition, authority, and intuition. Instead, I suggest we work diligently with our experience, and language with which to communicate about it, in order to construct a scientific framework that allows for informed consideration of transpersonal phenomena. In this regard, it behooves us to use a framework that is grounded in the most objective language to avoid terminology that, due to the ambiguity and lack of consensus in transpersonal matters, becomes meaningless and counterproductive. In conclusion, I believe science still unequivocally prevails as the best way to systematically organize and test our experience in a cumulatively open fashion.


This discussion requires addressing the issue of semantics that is particularly problematic in the field of transpersonal psychology. Just as a semantic distinction such as inner and outer ways of knowing can wreak havoc, the power of language to elucidate or confound is amazing. The same word does not mean the same thing for everyone, even in a community of shared language users. This is particularly true in a situation where a word is highly abstract. Everyone in the English speaking community reasonably knows the meaning of the word "chair." Nevertheless, some objects could be viewed as chairs by some English users and rejected as not-chairs by others such as illustrated by the question "Is a loveseat a chair or not?" As we get further from concrete objects, consensus naturally decreases, particularly when we get into the transpersonal realm. Concepts of god, for example, are highly variable based on religious preference, denomination within a preference, as well as many other variables. Any scientific progress in the field has to confront these complex issue of semantics.

For this to occur, however, transpersonal psychology needs to concertedly avoid the tendency to utilize mystical and non-consensual language, especially esoteric terms from traditions that are foreign not only to Westerners but also to most of the existing native speakers of the traditions from which the field attempts to borrow. Instead, the field should develop its own scientific language and frameworks. Unfortunately, the majority of theoretical work in the field appears to be an attempt to reframe folk traditions into modern psychological parlance, often producing what can be called psychobabble.


Beyond consideration of reductionary issues raised by Wilber's epistemology, it is commonly asserted that transpersonal psychology cannot be a science resting on the notion that science is inherently reductionary. This pejorative use of the term implies that what is left out in any reduction must be detrimental to any attempt to be holistic. Reductionary explanations, however, do not necessarily fail to due justice to subject matter reduced, including transpersonal phenomena. To explain the unique properties of water through discussion of how this substance emerges out of hydrogen and oxygen is reductionary and, yet, augments our knowledge of water. Likewise, to be able to explicate transpersonal issues through explanations from lower level systems would only enhance our knowledge of such phenomena and would not compromise the integrity of the field. This type of reduction could, instead, elucidate underlying principles that could open up many deeper avenues. No one can intelligently argue that understanding the chemical principles involved in combining hydrogen and oxygen into water debases water. In fact, the root meaning of the term "understanding" is based on a reductionary concept, that is "standing under" the phenomena so as to get to the bottom of it. Thus all explanations are, to some extent, reductionary. Finally, reductionary explanations do not have to necessarily reduce from the bottom up. They can also be top down, as well as more complicated constructions that capture multiple feedback loops such as are popular in dynamic self-organizing systems (e.g. Kelso, 1995) and chaos concepts (e.g. Masterpasqua & Perna, 1997). Reductionism only limits transpersonal psychology when it is misused.

Thus the argument that science is inherently reductionary is conceded, as would be any explanatory system, but the accompanying conclusion that science, therefore, is inappropriate for use in the field of transpersonal psychology is outright rejected. To the extent that science reduces complex phenomena to a simpler structure, that is attempts to explain things through laws, reductionism is considered a positive attribute of science. In that sense, I see no contradiction between being a transpersonal psychologist who simultaneously is interested in the most holistic subjects imaginable and yet still endeavors to search for underlying reductionary principles that can explain that subject.


There is a well-known scientific adage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The scary prevalence of various New Age as well as fundamentalist beliefs in the field is mostly based on gullibility or the naive suspension of skepticism such as in blind faith. In order to obtain a clearer idea as to what a redirection of transpersonal psychology back to science can accomplish, it is first important to emphasize that science relies on a process of applied skepticism which brings doubt to anything and everything that is not directly experienced or amenable to such direct experience. It is common, however, among romanticists in the field to tout some version of "accept everything as true" or, even worse, "whatever you believe will eventually become true, especially if you really put great faith in your belief." This type of uncritical embracing of all possibilities, though perhaps emotionally comforting in the short run, can only lead to ruin. I recall a Sufi teaching tale about a saint-fool who, when asked to settle a dispute, sequentially heard both parties version of reality. After hearing the first disputant, he pronounced that he agreed with that point of view. He did the same after hearing the second as well. An observer commented that it was absurd to agree with both diametrically opposed views and he, being consistent in his way, also agreed with the observer. In conclusion, science requires discriminating skepticism but this must also be moderated in a context of open-minded inquiry.

In addition, it is recognized that a solitary individual has limited time and energy to pursue science. Therefore, science puts emphasis on the social process of systematically gaining knowledge through sharing information. There is nothing sacrosanct about science, per se, other than its empirical method that creates an open dialogue among a community of knowers and allows for cumulative gains in knowledge through this sharing. When the community of knowers share skepticism, a powerful system of checks and balances emerges to scrutinize knowledge claims that increases the likelihood that any claims accepted by the community are sound. In the field of transpersonal psychology, in which the subject matter is extraordinary, all claims should be held to the highest standards of scientific rigor. Likewise, individuals within the field should professionally be wary of the human yearning to embrace claims that may be emotionally appealing but do not hold up under skeptical scrutiny.

Purpose of Scientific Knowledge

The alternative to naively accepting such claims is to understand them more deeply, such as through scientific means. The purpose of scientific knowledge is frequently described as involving understanding, including higher levels of understanding that allow for predicting and even controlling. Understanding refers to a belief about some aspect of reality that enables the knower to feel satisfied with that belief. This could be a belief that would be deemed mythological in modern Western settings, such as the old legend that thunder is due to the gods bowling, or it could be a belief that is currently deemed to be scientific. That which is viewed as scientific now may in the future, however, be considered to be merely another simplistic myth as knowledge progresses. All cognitive understanding is limited, of course, and can be taken to deeper and deeper level such that, from the deeper levels, less deep understanding can be viewed retrospectively as mythological. The scientific enterprise of understanding is expressed in theory construction in which values such as internal consistency, simplicity, elegance, and, above all, testability are used to guide this process. That transpersonal psychology can be used to make people feel good through giving them a primitive mythological sense of understanding, legitimized by the relationship in name only to the rigorous discipline of psychology, should be contrasted with the serious intent to ever deepen our understanding through the advancement of scientific theory.

Beyond this, there have been a large number transpersonal research methods that have been promulgated as alternatives to conventional scientific methods (Braud & Anderson, 1998). Many of these emphasize approaches that do not even attempt to get to an understanding of phenomena as much as they are oriented toward just describing raw phenomena or, sometimes, merely parroting them in the very voices of those they attempt to research. These type of approaches that do not attempt to assimilate data into any framework are basically outside of the edifice of science and do not add to knowledge as much as report it journalistically. This is not to state that these approaches have no potential utility but they are at a pre-scientific level and should be seen as part of transpersonal studies, not transpersonal psychology.

Predicting refers to understanding that enables the knower to project knowledge into the future. Being able to predict with some degree of veracity is, therefore, a more powerful level of knowing than merely having a satisfying theoretical explanation. All predictions are based on knowledge of the past extrapolated into the future and, because future circumstances may or may not be in accord with the past, predictive knowledge is never definite. To conclude that the sun will rise tomorrow since it has been historically known to rise in the past is to place great faith that tomorrow will not be different due to some cataclysm. The scientific enterprise of predicting is illustrated through the utility of making inferences into the future, even when gaining control of observable variables is not possible such as in using correlational methods to study astrophysical phenomena. That transpersonal psychologists have sometimes misused their authority as scientists through supporting questionable predictive methods, such as astrology, should be contrasted to the ability to make scientifically justifiable predictions based on extrapolating observed empirical regularities, that is laws, into the future. That scientific approaches to predicting relevant transpersonal phenomena have not been actively developed by the field, while there is so much popular interest in divination techniques and prophecy in religious traditions, is a sad commentary on the field. It should also be mentioned that prediction does not have to rest on rigid models of determinism that many from a transpersonal perspective find distasteful, particularly for transpersonal phenomena. Stochastic processes that involve considerable degrees of uncertainty at lower levels of analysis may still allow accurate probabilistic predictions at larger levels that are both stable and useful, as occur in disciplines as diverse as quantum mechanics and econometrics. Furthermore, for those who conceptualize transpersonal growth as a process of being more in the present moment and hence antithetical to a future orientation, I maintain that it is an essential human trait to try to be able to see into the future as well as to remember the past and be in the present.

Controlling is the most powerful level of knowing from a scientific perspective. Just as predicting is based on extrapolating from the past into the future, so too is controlling but with the added element of the ability, through manipulation of variables, to modify the future. The scientific enterprise of controlling is best illustrated through the logic of the classic laboratory experiment in which independent variables are manipulated to observe how they affect dependent variables while other variables are kept constant through processes such as double blind techniques. That transpersonal psychology can be used to make people feel good in the false belief that they have the ability to control accurately, for example that they might obtain enlightenment through endless repetitions of some magic chant or other questionable method, should again be contrasted to control gained by scientific examination of differential outcomes of various methods. Furthermore, to believe in the possibility of gaining control over the world, particularly in regard to transpersonal phenomena, may be contrary to beliefs based on both fatalism and free will that are common among many in the field.

With this brief summary of some of the basics of science, it becomes evident that transpersonal psychology is in its infancy without the establishment of even the most rudimentary of scientifically advances as a field. This is not to state that certain facts have not been systematically documented and this is not meant to discount the value of the numerous piecemeal studies that have accumulated. However, it is crucial that scientific approaches to transpersonal psychology not be limited to the mere gathering of piecemeal empirical findings that have no context. Instead, the field should strive to develop meaningful approaches that are cumulative in nature. That there is a paucity of empirically supported theory in the field at this time results in little ability to make predictions about or control any transpersonal phenomenon beyond the specifics of previous findings. This statement reflects the need for the field to develop approaches that provide some sense of a satisfactory advance in understanding and that enable both prediction or control of relevant variables that can withstand the scrutiny of skeptical yet open scientists.

Reciprocal Relationship between Theory and Method

The way in which science progress is through a reciprocal relationship between theory and method. I tend to be more of a theoretician, as opposed to a methodologist, in spite of the fact that much of my scientific efforts have been devoted toward developing a transpersonal measurement approach. My initial motivation in developing a transpersonal measure was primarily theory-driven, incidentally, based on wanting to have a valid instrument to test my theory. In addition, since developing the SELF was the major part of my doctoral dissertation in a relatively conventional clinical psychology program, I should mention that my dissertation director refused to even consider sanctioning the awarding of a doctorate for only theoretical work, especially in a field as controversial as transpersonal psychology, unless it was grounded with solid empirical support and, belatedly, I am grateful for his stance.

Good scientific theory construction is necessary for transpersonal psychology to progress as a science. Such theory should have internal coherence, that is be logically consistent within itself, and be amenable to empirical refutation through the possibility of examining data external to itself. The important role of theory is sometimes denigrated in science, particularly by those who endorse atheoretical stances in which the data supposedly speaks for itself and for those who are enamoured with methodologies for their own sake. I strongly endorse the belief that there is nothing as valuable as a good theory in any scientific endeavor, the corollary of which is that theories come and go while a solid fact remains to be explained by each successive theory. This leads to the conclusion that theories without empirical support are sterile and facts without theory are meaningless.

Thus theory driven approaches are one way to proceed in science but it is equally appropriate to have data driven approaches. An excellent example of this type of work in transpersonal psychology is that of MacDonald (2000) who devised a model for understanding expressions of spirituality through factor analyzing a number of extant measurement approaches to extract their commonalities and differences. This resulted in a five-factor model that is based on empirical findings, not theory. Of course, this type of model, once created, leads to derived theoretical formulations that are subject to further testing. Consequently, the endeavors of science are like a great circle. Regardless of where a scientist starts, with theory or data, the scientific approach promotes cumulative progress through the process of interplay between both.

In order to construct a good theory, the starting place is with creating scientific constructs. Constructs refer to abstract concepts, such as psychological dimensions, that are not typically part of natural language. Constructs are thus hypothetical in that they are put forth in order to explore their usefulness for organizing thoughts or observations. To be optimally useful, constructs should be clearly specified, through rigorous definition, and amenable, or at least potentially amenable, to objective measurement.

Constructs are used as building blocks in creating a scientific framework. They inform us at to what is important to notice. When a framework of inter-related constructs is created, then theory can be derived from the implied relationships. Theory is basically a statement of the interrelationship between two or more such constructs. Just as a sentence in English typically requires a minimum of a subject and an object, a theoretical statement is usually framed in a similar fashion. The theoretical interrelationship between, or among, constructs can be posed in any number of ways, including in natural language sentences, in mathematical formulations, or graphically. It should be noted that theory does not have to be either true nor false, rather it can just be an abstract statement, like the proverbial finger pointing at the moon and not to be confused with the reality toward which it points. Finally in this regard, theories do not stand alone but, rather, are part of larger bodies of knowledge and points of view. If a number of scientific theories are interrelated, through sharing constructs, they provide a common vantage point within a conceptual framework. If this gains wide acceptance, through ample empirical support and wide usage in a large number of areas, then the status of being viewed as a scientific paradigm may be warranted. The process of how science may unfold needs to be kept flexible, of course, since it has many variations around the main theme presented in this synopsis.

The development of scientific theory is always an evolving process. Once initially constructed, theory is not blindly accepted in science but requires using methodological approaches to both test the worth of the theory and to guide its advancement. Without empirical testing, again this process would ultimately become sterile and come to a halt. Theory can be advanced, to some degree, by efforts to unify it with other theory or to increase its internal consistency by rooting out logical contradictions, but empirical efforts are needed to separate out science from allied areas such as the many fields of nonscientific transpersonal studies, as well as philosophy and mathematics. Likewise, methodological advances may be needed to allow growing scientific theory to continue to be further tested and, in turn, this opens the possibilities for additional theory development in a reciprocal spiraling process. It should also be noted that methodological advances can spawn theory construction as empirical findings challenge science toward integration of the data obtained through methodological means, so again scientific progress can be either theory or method driven.

When theory drives science, it is often through the process of generating hypotheses that are deduced from the theory. Hypotheses are tentative guesses, based on theory, that are explored through research attempts such as collecting data in order to disconfirm the hypotheses. In classical approaches to science, if null hypotheses that contradict the theory are rejected, the theory is supported. Likewise, when method drives science, data is used inductively to generate theory. Whatever way science proceeds, again it is always a dynamic interplay between theory and method.

Furthermore, the progress of scientific theory and method does not occur in a scientific vacuum. The larger world of human affairs, including economics and politics, influences basic factors in scientific advancement such as which research gets funded or published. This is crucial to the development of science in any field and, particularly so in a field as controversial as transpersonal psychology. It is unfortunate that transpersonal psychology as a field is just not viewed as a serious player in the scientific game at this time. In addition, it is my opinion that science without applications to the world of human problems and potentials offers only academic elegance and little solace to human suffering or promise for human growth. Consequently, a responsible transpersonal psychology must be sensitive to its impact in the larger world of human affairs.

Midrange Theory

The discipline of transpersonal psychology has recently been overtaken by some degree of perceived theoretical unanimity based on a vertical approach to theory, primarily championed by Wilber (1996). Consequently, his theory is important to address. He proposes an evolutionary view of consciousness unfolding in both the individual and in the larger community of humankind. The type of theoretical approach being discussed is often categorized as grand theory, epitomized by Hegel's monumental works that Wilber openly admires. This type of grand theoretical approach has been in disrepute among most of the modern scientific community for quite some time, however, having been dismissed by the belief that any theory that attempts to explain everything must explain nothing adequately. In psychology, the fading of influence of the grand theory of Freud well illustrates the increasing abandonment of this type of theory as fruitless. One important criterion of a scientific theory is that it be amenable to refutation. This is a criterion that grand theory always has problems in meeting.

Washburn (1994) expresses the growing acceptance within the transpersonal field of grand theory through delineating two branches to which he awards paradigm status. He stated, "Two primary paradigms guide transpersonal inquiry. One is a paradigm rooted in the psychoanalytic, Jungian, depth-psychological tradition" (p. xii). This view places emphasis on a spiral path of both ascent and descent characteristic of Washburn's and related theories. Alternatively, he stated, "The other major transpersonal paradigm is rooted in the structurally oriented psychology (especially cognitive developmental) and sees development during this lifetime as following a course of straight ascent" (p. xiii), the view endorsed by Wilber. Both views share much in common, especially the importance put on the verticality of the transpersonal growth process, regardless of whether it is viewed as based on Wilber's hierarchical path of ascent or Washburn's more complex depth approach.

As one example of a major problem in Wilber's theory, he postulates invariant development stages from lower to higher. He argues from other stage theorists, such as Piaget, that one must first acquire lower skills, such as arithmetic, before one can master higher skills, such as algebra. There are problems with this reasoning, however. For one, even in the simpler domain of cognitive skills, there are variances noted, such as with idiot savants who do not necessarily have the underlying skills yet demonstrate the ability for extremely complex skills. Furthermore, when studying development, there is more invariance at the lower levels of development than at the higher. That is, though most 2 year olds are going through similar stages of cognitive development, it is more difficult to describe sensibly what most 60 year olds are going through since at the higher levels of complexity there are so many alternate developmental routes, bracketing biological changes that occur due to the aging process. The basic argument that must be considered here is that, even though there may be considerable invariance at lower levels of development, such as has been clearly demonstrated with cognitive development in children, there is no logical necessity that any such higher development will be orderly. In the absence of empirical demonstration of such invariance at higher levels, or even in a way to test for such invariance, no conclusion can be justified.

Perhaps the core issue in this discussion is best viewed through examining the notion of higher and lower which is the heart of these vertical theories. Wilber's pre/trans fallacy is the best expression of this point of view. In this fallacy, Wilber tries to show that certain levels are higher in the sense of including and surpassing lower levels. Unfortunately, the reality is that distinctions between higher and lower, pre and trans, are not so easily analyzed and are laden with problems due to their relativity. As Tart (1975) has pointed out, hierarchical judgments are only meaningful in regard to a specific frame of reference, such that being intoxicated with marijuana might be higher for appreciating music, one criterion, and lower for doing mathematics, another criterion. The inability to answer questions such as "Whether shamanic practices are higher or lower than Buddhist meditation practices?" exemplifies the heart of this problem, since these practices are multifaceted and multidimensional, not amenable to being easily placed on any absolute linear continuum. Since there are no valid bases for differentiating hierarchy at the so-called higher levels of development, due to the lack of adequate ways to conceptualize and measure these, I prefer to call the pre/trans fallacy the pre/trans ambiguity. For these reasons, I consider this whole approach to currently be outside of the realm of science. Without being amenable to testing, Wilber's theory remains in the dark ages with other medieval scholasticism. Furthermore, Frager (1989) pointed out many problems related to hierarchical models such as the potential abuses of power that could result from such a stance.

Although vertical views, such as Wilber's, offer insights potentially important to transpersonal psychology, they are not scientific theories. It therefore seems unwise to abandon science, which is so established as a useful method, and return to the grand theorizing of the nineteenth century. Hence, in my consideration, the vertical view does not even remotely approach paradigmatic status at this time. Thus Wilber is only presenting a philosophical integration that reframes in a Westernized context the Vedantic folk tradition. Furthermore, Wilber works from the idealistic tradition and tries to fit data into his grand theoretic scheme in a Procrustean fashion, that is he tends to let the elegance of his theory shape the data rather than being guided by the data. The fact that the field of transpersonal psychology has apparently embraced so fully the nonscientific views proposed by Wilber and other grand theorists is indicative of the regressive struggle the field is experiencing between the forces of romanticism and the need to become a legitimate field of science. This is in spite of the fact that Wilber himself adamantly claims that he is opposed to the regressive tendencies of romanticism. Grand theories, such as Wilber's, should therefore be seen as within the domain transpersonal studies and not part of a scientifically based transpersonal psychology.

There remains the pressing need, therefore, to find alternative frameworks that would better allow for the development of a viable science of transpersonal psychology. Grand theories that literally claim to explain everything need to be contrasted to the type of theorizing prevalent in conventional psychology that have little applicability to transpersonal phenomena and, consequently, are trivial in that regard. Consequently, I am an advocate of developing midrange approaches to theorizing that attempts to avoid the pitfalls of both grandiosity and triviality.

One basis for such a theory can be exemplified through the construct of transpersonal self-expansiveness and its associated measure, the SELF (Friedman, 1983). This construct is presented within a framework that allows for a transpersonal perspective that is scientifically grounded. Furthermore, the SELF has been repeatedly shown to demonstrate qualities enabling it to serve as a viable empirical avenue to testing transpersonal psychological theory derived from the construct (MacDonald, Gagnier, & Friedman, 2000; MacDonald, Tsagarakis, & Holland, 1994; Friedman, 1983). This approach is midrange because it attempts to address one transpersonal construct in a rigorous way without either trying to explain everything in a grandiose way or excluding transpersonal phenomena in a way that trivializes its importance. In addition, it also allows for the responsible use of scientific methods in applied transpersonal psychological practice (Friedman, 1997) as well as for participating in an active research tradition in which psychometric methods are applied to further the scientific development of the field (MacDonald, Kuentzel, & Friedman, 1999; MacDonald, Friedman, & Kuentzel, 1999; MacDonald, LeClair, Holland, Alter, & Friedman 1995). This approach thus offers the potential to make scientific contributions to the field that grand theory and trivial approaches do not. Hopefully, further work on this particular approach will bear scientific fruit or, alternatively, it may serve as a model for the development of other mid-range approaches in the field.

Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches

Another issue that is germane to this discussion is how it is in vogue now among many transpersonal psychologists who are, at least superficially, open to scientific efforts in the field to advocate qualitative approaches as superior to quantitative approaches in conducting transpersonal research. Braud and Anderson (1998), for example, do an excellent job of contrasting assumptions of various models of science but they give a disproportionate amount of attention to qualitative methods which they openly conclude are often better suited for transpersonal research. In my estimation, most of the qualitative methods they describe are unfortunately more suited for use in transpersonal studies and do not really constitute scientific approaches.

Qualitative approaches may be valuable in scientific work but primarily as precursors to quantitative approaches. In fact, before we know what questions to even ask in an area, the best starting place might be to attempt some qualitative observations conducted with minimum preconceptions and intrusiveness. Once we develop some notion as to what might be occuring in an area, it is usually more fruitful to become more active in the research process.

One problem with qualitative approaches is that to know something qualitatively is to necessarily be imprecise. In contrast, if we can move toward quantification, we can know more rigorously. In this regard, it should be noted that quantification is just another language or mode of expression. There is nothing essentially reductionary, at least in the pejorative sense of that word, in quantifying. If anything, quantification opens us to more complex and elegant modes of expression that enhances, not reduces, our field of inquiry and comprehending. Those who reject quantification are correct when either inappropriate quantitative models are used to rigidly analyze data, such as in garbage in and garbage out number crunching, or when qualitative data is summarily rejected as useless just because it is not quantitative even though there may not yet be adequate quantitative approaches available.

In my opinion, many transpersonal psychologists tend to romanticize the qualitative approach to methodology as if that approach, somehow, provides a more pure or deep product than quantitative approaches. This is analogous to the prevalent preference for subjective approaches which, along with this qualitative bias, is detrimental for progress in the field. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches rest, ultimately, on a human judgment of discrimination. The qualitative methodologist selects what phenomena she is going to observe, how she will observe it, and how she will qualitatively describe it. These judgments are no less subject to bias than those in any quantitative approach. Furthermore, descriptive words chosen to qualitatively describe a phenomenon are not essentially different from quantitative concepts. A qualitative observer who states that he observed frequent quarreling among certain individuals is not saying something essentially different from one who quantitatively observes quarreling, operationally defined as "raised voice, facial expressions congruent with anger as agreed upon by two out of three independent raters," in 32 per cent of observed encounters of those individuals. Even the natural language descriptive word "frequent," as used in this example, is a quantitative concept, just an imprecise one. The quantitative approach is therefore not so different as it is a more precise way of knowing and communicating. It is also more easily replicable, congruent with the cumulative nature of the scientific enterprise. However, at times it is just not yet possible to responsibly use quantitative methods and it would be equally irresponsible to defer needed research which could be addressed qualitatively. When possible, though, why would someone use a dull tool rather than a sharp one when precise cutting is required?

Much of transpersonal scientific work has been based on qualitative descriptions of experiences, many again derived from so-called exotic cultures that have been described with a sense of reverence. There is nothing inherently wrong with these types of approaches per se since the first step in understanding any phenomenon is to recognize its existence and value. For the field to mature, however, work has to progress beyond this sense of reverence and mere naÔve description. We have to roll up our sleeves and start to figure out, through careful and deliberate scientific work, what is really going on. The methods of science, including quantification, are the best way to move in that direction. At least, however, for those who are interested in either qualitative or quantitative approaches, the focus is on collecting data rather than engaging in non-empirically based speculation.

Measurement Issues

One logical starting place for any empirical effort is through the development of adequate measurement efforts; that is exactly why I have focused my initial transpersonal research efforts in that direction. The development of the telescope opened up the heavens for exploration, replacing the old astrological superstitions with the science of astronomy, and the development of the microscope enabled the germ theory to replace the belief in disease as spiritual possession. Likewise the need for transpersonal psychological measurement instruments is important for the field to progress. Specifically, if we do not know what and how we are going to measure, then the complexity of the world is overwhelming. Likewise, any attempt to descriptively capture the myriad aspects of the reality of the world comprehensively without reducing this complexity in some fashion is just naÔve.

Whether we are doing conventional scientific psychological research on something as simple as aggressive behavior in 5-year old children, which really is not at all simple, or whether we are doing research on more esoteric transpersonal phenomena, using a consensual language that has to involved. The solution used by most scientists to increase the likelihood that all involved in the discussion are basically on the same page is through the artifact of creating and adhering to operational definitions that consist of specifying an objective process that results in a measurable outcome so that all who follow a recipe will have a high degree of consensus. If, for example, the level of aggression in preschoolers is operationally defined as the number of times a preschooler can be observed making physical contact with another human (parent, peer, or teacher) that a rater is willing to evaluate as fitting the subjective judgment that harm was intended, then we might be able to get a high degree of inter-rater reliability as well as test-retest reliability. In regard to the usefulness of this, or any, operational definition of aggression, it depends on the question of useful for what purpose. As an illustration, clearly with this approach we would be excluding verbal aggression from consideration with our operational definition and that might hinder usefulness for some predictive purposes. The point is that any definition is inherently limited and can never capture the entire concept being defined. Operational definitions, as any type of definition, are aIways subject to limitations but they can be more precise than looser definitions that are not specified by any consensual recipe. Even in conventional psychology, however, we have many difficulties in this area.

Difficulties in operationalizing conventional psychological constructs are not necessarily inherently less problematic than they are in the area of transpersonal phenomena. An operational definition of aggression, a relatively common psychological construct, requires considerable specification and the acceptance of its limitedness. Likewise this is required for any operational definition in transpersonal psychology, such as that of expanded self-concept as measured by the SELF. The procedure for obtaining a score on the Transpersonal Scale of the SELF, as a measure of expanded self-concept, is not essentially different in its rationale from similar procedures in more conventional areas of psychology, such as defining intelligence as the score obtained on a specific standardized paper and pencil measure of intelligence. In this sense, intelligence as a construct is not more observable, or perhaps real, than the construct of expanded self-concept, even though intelligence testing is widely recognized as the singular area of applied psychology in which the most solid work has occurred. In this regard, many conventional psychological constructs may prove to be actually more difficult to adequately operationalize than a number of transpersonal constructs.

This requires brief discussion of some basic concepts regarding scientific measurement, starting with the issue of reliability and validity. Reliability essentially refers to the stability or consistency of a measurement. One type of reliability involves the consistency of measures provided by a number of different individuals applying the measure, known as inter-rater reliability. Another type of reliability involves taking the same measurement more than once at different times and is known as test-retest reliability. If what is being measured is expected to be relatively stable over time, such as a person's height, then we would expect a reliable measurement tool to give similar results regardless of the rater measuring the person's height and at different times for the same rater. In this relatively simple situation, it is hard to conceive of difficulty in devising a reliable measurement tool. However, supposed we relied on natural language to qualitatively describe height, such as the categories of short, medium, or tall. If we asked 10 people to rate a sample of research subjects of different heights using these descriptors, how much agreement would we get? I suspect that there would be considerable differences among raters as to whom is short, medium or tall in height. Likewise, if we took the same rater and asked him to judge a large number of people using these categories, most likely there would be considerable disagreements within his own ratings such that an individual rated as short at one time may be rated as medium at a later time. Clearly if we used a more sophisticated quantitative system, such as based on the foot size of a former king of England, we would obtain greater reliability. Finally, the relativity of all measurement needs to be mentioned. For example, even in measuring the height of people we might notice that people are taller in the morning and progressively shrink during the day as stress wears them down. We might also notice that our measuring ruler, if made of wood, expands on humid days and when the temperature is hot and, conversely, shrinks with low humidity and cool temperature. Furthermore, even the eyes and hands of the one employing such a measuring ruler is in similar flux. Consequently, finding a way to standardize even the simplest measurement task, such as using the length of the foot of a former king at a given temperature and humidity, increases reliability through allowing for control of some of the type of error in measurement.

Validity ultimately refers to the worth of a measure and, like reliability, there are many kinds of validity. The ability of a measure to predict a future criterion accurately, for example, is called predictive validity. The point that needs to be made in this regard is that without adequate reliability, there can be no validity. However, a measure can be extremely reliable but be utterly worthless for any, and perhaps all, purposes, that is invalid. To illustrate this, if a gun were to shoot in a random pattern with bullets hitting inconsistently, in spite of a marksman's steady hand and good eye, the gun would be unreliable and not a tool that law officers would want to use to defend their lives, that is invalid for defense purposes. On the other hand, if a gun shoots consistently low and to the right, it is reliable in giving consistent results but still would not present as a valid tool for defense. However, if the gun were reliable in this way, the marksman could correct for the invalidity of missing the target by consistently aiming high and to the left. Thus sometimes if validity is lacking but there is a reliable tool, validity can be obtained by making corrections to the tool. The converse however does not occur, that is unreliability cannot be easily overcome by the user. It could, of course, possibly be corrected by the toolmaker.

In addition, one approach toward increasing validity in any measurement effort is to utilize measures from several methods. For example, in doing a conventional clinical psychological assessment, it is widely recommended that clinicians use at least two independent methods of collecting data, such as through a clinical interview of the patient, an interview of an informant like a family member or co-worker, a behavioral observation of the patient, and formal psychological testing. Thus varying methods of data collection provides a natural check to correct for any bias, including from deception, in one of the methods. It also provides a larger sample of the domain of all potential measurements from which to draw conclusions.

In regard to the reliability and validity of measures, it should be pointed out that these concepts are less applicable to qualitative descriptions. How could a describer of an event or thing qualitatively establish the reliability or validity of their description? It would be like comparing apples to oranges although supposed experts, such as psychiatrists, might argue that their qualitative descriptions are more valid than those of others. This argument might even be accepted in a court of law through attributed authority even though empirically unsubstantiated. However, qualitative descriptions basically are outside of the logical edifice that meaningfully defines the concepts of reliability and validity. They can, however, be brought into that edifice by doing a quantitative content analysis of the qualitative descriptions which, then, can be subject to this type of scrutiny.

In regard to self-report approaches to measurement, a close-ended technique is one in which limited choices are given to respondents as in a set rating scale accompanied by specific statements provided to rate, such as is used in the SELF. Research participants have to fit their phenomenological reality into the frame of reference provided by the instrument. Many transpersonal researchers seem to favor open-ended approaches to gathering data instead of close-ended. It should be noted, however, that close-ended techniques are not that different from open-ended ones in that they are both used to assess the phenomenological world of another. The open-ended technique usually involves a rater fitting the open-ended responses, more qualitatively obtained, into some confined frame of reference after subjects have been allowed to respond. In that sense, whether the frame of reference is first given in a close-ended fashion or inferred afterwards, which also provides a closure to the data, the results are a similar product. That is not to deny that each strategy has its relative advantages and disadvantages. There is a growing trend in transpersonal research, however, to try to stay as near to the data as possible by reporting responses to open-ended questions in a verbatim fashion without organizing it into any frame of reference. This, once more, is seen as no longer part of the scientific enterprise but, instead, more a journalistic approach to transpersonal studies.

In conclusion, transpersonal psychology requires more concerted measurement efforts in order to progress as a science. In particular, these efforts should focus on issues such as reliability and validity and attempts should be made to use the same measure in multiple studies rather than to create a new measure for each effort, thereby precluding cumulative findings.


It is also appropriate to briefly discuss the role of statistical analysis in relationship to quantitative approaches in that many transpersonal psychologists reject statistical approaches if not only for the rigor required but also due to the very notion that such an impersonal process as a mathematical procedure could guide understanding more effectively that human intuition. Statistics, however, are nothing but a way of searching for pattern in data. They amplify our human ability rather than detract from it. I like to pose this question to those who outright reject statistics: "If there were a class of students who were the following ages in years, 12, 14, 12, 13, 11, 11, 12, 11 and 11, then how old are the students?" With such a simple array of numbers, one can not answer easily unless simply parroting back the ages as given, without using some descriptive summary of the data such as the mean, standard deviation, and range for that data set. For those who attempt to conduct qualitative research on the content of something as simple as a series of a dozen recorded one-hour unstructured interviews, the amount of information available is totally overwhelming without some statistical method to assimilate that into meaningful data. Furthermore, any totally qualitative content analysis would likely to be as much a projection on the part of the researcher as it would reflect any underlying commonality of content in the data without some organizing tool such as statistics.

Finally, regarding the further utility of mathematic descriptions in general, there are some things that are plainly counter-intuitive to most natural human languages, such as the notion of backward flowing time that can best be expressed non-prejudicially through mathematical formulation rather than though language. To try to express complex theoretical formulations in natural language, which is extremely ambiguous, redundant, and often based on limiting assumptions, when the power of mathematics is available is as unproductive as excavating for the construction of a large building with a shovel when heavy machinery is available.

One aspect of statistical analysis that is extremely important is sampling. Seldom do researchers have either access to an entire population of interest or the resources to investigate an entire population. Rather, due to these constraints, it is typical to rely on a limited sample from which generalizations to the entire population can be drawn. One issue that becomes extremely important, in this regard, is whether a given sample is representative of a larger population. For example, if a meditator asks his friends to participate in a transpersonal study and they, in turn, ask their friends until a sizable sample is obtained, this would be called a snowball sample, one that is gathered haphazardly like how a snowball rolling down a hill picks up additional snow. There would be no way to determine if findings from this sample could be generalized to any population of interest. On the other hand, if all meditators undergoing training through an organized program in the U.S. could be identified and a subset of these randomly chosen for research, then the findings could be generalized to the larger population from which the sample was chosen, namely all such meditators. This of course would rely on controls against bias, such as that those who agree to participate in such a study may be different from the general population in some way, for example less interested in devoting their efforts single mindedly to meditation as evidenced by their willingness to play with researchers this way. In the transpersonal area, where research is focused on variables that might be uncommon, there may indeed be specific problems with adequate subject selection (Nagel, 1999). This, however, is not an insurmountable problem and conventional science has to frequently deal with these types of difficulties, for example studying certain subatomic particle behavior requires use of huge and expensive apparatus in order to obtain a sample of such behavior. Another common error in this regard is to assume that a large sample is better than a small one. This is not necessarily true, for example if the small one is representative and the large one is not.

Finally, it is important to mention that individual studies are just samples of all the possible studies that could be done. Hence any one study tells little and this is why the piecemeal approach to research in the field is so lacking in lasting value. For example, one out of 20 studies would obtain statistically significant findings at the .05 level of significance through chance alone. If only studies reaching this criterion were published, it could be that what is published are only the lucky studies that reach significant levels due to chance results. In order to test whether studies that are published really are finding something significant, instead of just being lucky, replication is required. Replication also counterbalances for biases in any particular study, including biases due to fraud. Thus one study alone and out of the context of a research tradition is basically uninterpretable. I am thinking of my dissertation director's response to the initial independent replication of my findings on the SELF. He wrote to me, "You have been vindicated." This aptly demonstrates the skepticism held for transpersonal research by most of psychology and the importance of independent replication in establishing the credibility of findings. It is also interesting that the initial researcher who replicated my work on the SELF also approached it with skepticism and wanted to debunk my original findings.

In conclusion, all avenues to data collection may be appropriate and none are inferior or superior per se except as judged for a specific purpose. What is important is that good empirical research be conducted rather than relying on just speculation. The biases that many in the field show against rigorous methods, such as statistical analysis, are counterproductive for progress in the field. Likewise, conventional psychological biases toward favoring methods that may be inappropriate when applied to complex transpersonal phenomena are equally detrimental. When possible, however, using the most rigorous tool that is appropriate for the job makes the most sense.

In this regard, it is important to caution those in the field to be thoroughly familiar with any tools that might be used. For example, the blind use of powerful statistical packages without understanding their underlying limitations is widely problematic. A recent example of this is a quantitative dissertation produced out of one of the major institutions granting doctorates in transpersonal psychology (Upton, 1998). I happened to review this work carefully, since it was partly focused on furthering some of my research on the SELF. Unfortunately, I was chagrined to find that many of the quantitative approaches used were performed inappropriately and major conclusions drawn in the research were questionable due to a multiple of problems in collecting and handling the data. The mistakes made in this study are emblematic of what should be avoided in transpersonal research. Thus, though I was pleased to see that a quantitative effort was made in a dissertation in the field, I adamantly believe that these types of efforts should be at least as, if not more, rigorous than in areas of conventional psychology.



It is fascinating that there is now a lot of efforts being generated in many areas of study and application that are labeled "spiritual." This work is being produced both outside of the discipline of psychology, primarily in health-related areas, and even within mainstream psychology in spite of the traditional resistance to any consideration of these concerns. For example, a number of books have recently been published by the American Psychological Association (APA) on topics addressing spirituality (e.g. Richards & Bergin, 1997). This is a dramatic new development for conventional psychology to promote publications of this sort, but APA book publications are a profit making enterprise and held to quite different standards than the more rigorous requirements of the APA research and theoretical journals. There is also now a growing emphasis in taking religious phenomena in general, including spirituality, into account as part of the responsible application of conventional psychological services (Shafranske,1996). One example of such efforts is the encouragement of clinicians to develop cultural sensitivity toward psychotherapy clients of diverse religious backgrounds in order to facilitate the effectiveness of conventional psychotherapeutic approaches. Unfortunately, most of these psychological books do not mention, or mention only briefly in passing, transpersonal psychology. Thus, this growing interest in spirituality is not being overtly recognized as related to transpersonal psychology and, for the most part, is not coming from scholars and practitioners associated with the field. If there is the beginning of a renaissance of psychological interest in spirituality, the field is minimally included.

With the problems endemic in the field, it is considered important to examine the advantage as opposed to the disadvantage of abandoning the term transpersonal psychology for the alternative term that is rapidly becoming more widely used, namely spiritual psychology. A growing number of scientifically oriented scholars and practitioners in the field are quietly disaffiliating from any usage of transpersonal psychology as a label and, instead, embracing the alternative term that they consider now to be less contaminated by negative associations. This alternative clearly seems to be the preferred term in examining transpersonal phenomena within the field of psychology of religion, although transpersonal phenomena are seldom of interest to those within that field anyway. Even those who seem to strongly identify with the field of transpersonal psychology appear to be using these terms interchangeably. This is sad in that the initial impetus in embracing the label of transpersonal psychology was find a neutral term in order to avoid the type of problems now endemic in the field that are associated with romanticism. That those interested in transpersonal phenomena would now increasingly abandon that term for the alternative of spiritual psychology, that formerly had been abandoned due to its nonscientific connotations, is ironic. Consequently, I maintain that the use of spirituality as a label is still too closely tied to the experiential aspect of theistic religions to be helpful toward developing a scientific transpersonal psychology. Although it has become popular to distinguish between spirituality and religiosity, spirituality nevertheless implies a relationship of some sort with the magical unseen forces of the spirit world that is embedded in an inherently anti-scientific bias. Even though I recognize that the term spirituality is now widely used by people who may not actually believe in any spirits per se, the term has this baggage and therefore seems limited in its useful for establishing a solid scientific understanding of relevant phenomena. As previously discussed, the way in which a question is asked both structures and limits the type of answers that can be provided; similarly, the name of a field to some extent shapes that field. For this reason, I believe that the use of transpersonal psychology as the field's name still offers distinct advantages over use of the alternative term and merits continued usage by scientific scholars and practitioners in the field.

It is also important to consider some of the broader implications of a scientific transpersonal psychology. The discipline of scientific psychology as a whole has been throughout its short history struggling with the development of a unifying paradigm (Yanchar & Slife, 1997). I believe that the transpersonal perspective is the most comprehensive perspective possible for psychology and could provide such a paradigm. Similarly, Cortwright wrote, "Transpersonal psychology is in the unique position of being the only psychological approach to human experience that can be more than just integrative but fully inclusive..." (1997, p. 242). If the field of transpersonal psychology could abandon its current posture of ambivalence, if not overt rejection, toward science, it could progress beyond being an isolated and narrow endeavor and have real impact on the discipline. Transpersonal psychology therefore should be actively concerned with contributing to the development of mainstream conventional psychology and not remain content with its marginalized status within the larger discipline of which it is but one field.

Krippner expresses a similar theme as applied to the importance of the development of transpersonal psychology to the world beyond just the discipline of psychology, as follows: "There is an urgent need in today's fractious world for integrative transpersonal perspectives, especially if presented in ways that are self-critical and able to be linked in contemporary scientific and practical concerns" (1998, pp. x-xi). Returning to its scientific roots is the only path for the field to take in order to make such sorely needed contributions. Furthermore, accelerating advances within science, such as sophisticated new neurotechnologies applicable to studying consciousness, are increasingly opening innovative and exciting scientific avenues for exploring transpersonal psychology. Thus, a redirection back to science would both allow transpersonal psychology to gain acceptance as a legitimate enterprise within the larger community of scientific efforts, including the discipline of psychology of which it is a part, and allow for its responsible application toward human betterment through professional practice.

Perhaps no field identified with the discipline of psychology has openly accepted so many nonscientific approaches into its fold as has transpersonal psychology. Wilber has aptly expressed the current state of the field, as follows: "There are many who see all too clearly the sad shape our field is in. They tell me about it all the time. They are truly alarmed by the reactionary, antiprogressive, and regressive fog thickly creeping over the entire field" (1998, p. 336). Without a rededication to science, the field is unlikely to progress or earn acceptance by the scientific and professional communities and, accordingly, it will likely stagnate and disappear with its ultimate impact on humankind being slight. If this scenario were to occur, in the end transpersonal psychology will be either totally forgotten or remembered only as an obscure footnote in a few of the more comprehensive history of psychology texts. In fact, this is pretty much its status now in mainstream psychology. As a more positive alternative, I consider it probable that, if transpersonal psychology were to return to its original vision and fully embrace a renewed commitment to science, it could become not only scientifically and professionally viable but also one of the most important assets to humankind's survival and, in a more positive sense, continued evolution.

Simply stated, the path the field will follow will be determined by whether its scientific proponents actively demonstrate renewed commitment toward creating a responsible science or, instead, allow the field to lapse into the default status of merely being another superfluous New Age movement or worse, a sham promulgating Eastern religious traditions under the false pretenses of being part of the discipline of psychology. The outcome of this choice has important significance because, if transpersonal psychology fails to more fully embrace science and ceases to exist as a field, that would create an unfortunate void in terms of the lack of any other extant field oriented toward forging the needed scientific perspectives to directly address the important issues involved. In this paper, I have point out ways in which scientific development in the field can occur in an attempt to balance the profound potential uniquely offered by the transpersonal perspective with the need to maintain intellectual rigor and integrity that I believe can only be provided through the scientific approach. If a renewed commitment to science were to occur, competent theorists and researchers would be attracted to the challenges abundant in this field. In fact, I do not know of any field more worthy, as well as in need, of intense scientific efforts. I am also convinced that, if concerted scientific efforts were made in transpersonal psychology, resulting advances could have great potentials for improving the human condition and even for preserving our planet from destruction. As we go about destroying our own planet with our material success (excess), the roots of any salvation for our species and our world can only be found in the firm realization of the interconnectedness of ourselves and all humankind to our ultimate ground of being. Transpersonal psychology can provide such a focus for this realization. Hopefully, this paper will encourage those involved in transpersonal psychology to begin a deeper and more systematic examination about what the field promotes and where it is heading in order to provide additional impetus for its redirection back to science. Ultimately, in this regard, it is my belief that scientific progress in the field will lead not only to increased transpersonal understanding but it may even lay the groundwork for larger numbers of us to directly experience transcendence which, indeed, goes beyond what science can directly grasp but toward which science can possibly point.



Author Note

Harris Friedman, Ph.D. can be contacted at 2709 Swamp Cabbage Court, Fort Myers, FL 33901, USA or at