TRANSFORMING THE HUMAN BODY
with MICHAEL MURPHY
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Good evening. Our topic this evening is the transformation of the human body, and my guest, Michael Murphy, is the founder of the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California, and also the author of four books, including Golf in the Kingdom, The Psychic Side of Sports, Jacob Atabet, and a new book --
MICHAEL MURPHY: The Future of the Body.
MISHLOVE: Plus another book --
MURPHY: An End to Ordinary History.
MISHLOVE: An End to Ordinary History.
MURPHY: Strange group of titles.
MISHLOVE: Welcome, Michael.
MURPHY: Good to be here.
MISHLOVE: Glad to have you. The future of the human body is what really intrigues me, and I know this has been a major interest of yours for a long time, hasn't it?
MURPHY: Yes, the idea for this work I'm doing was planted in my head by Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher who deserves to be better known, I feel, in the West, who proposed that the body has been undervalued by the great religious traditions, and that the body is the densest part of the soul, so to speak -- that it is central to the evolutionary crisis now on earth. This was Aurobindo's idea, and about ten years ago a group of us began to collect evidence for the proposition that the body sometimes achieves levels of supernormal efficiency and functioning. Our strategy in this study was to collect enough evidence for this, from enough fields, to show that a kind of development was trying to occur in the human body. You might say we are doing a kind of natural-history approach in this study -- collecting not specimens of structure, but specimens of behavior and of the consciousness that accompanies it.
MISHLOVE: People who have read your book The Psychic Side of Sports would have a glimpse into one window of what you're doing, I suppose.
MURPHY: Right. Because sport provides this incredible laboratory to show us what the body can do, and I take the attitude that sport is like this giant laboratory that has been built, in which hardly anyone really knows how to read the dials or really appreciates the incredible story that's unfolding before our very eyes, that we enjoy, but we don't see it perhaps in the context that it deserves. You know, records are being broken -- well, dozens of records are being broken in the major sports, where records are kept every year.
MISHLOVE: You know, what intrigues me -- I read an article about ten years ago in Scientific American about the upper limit of human running ability. They showed that it seemed to be linear -- that every decade new records are broken, and that they didn't know that there was an upper limit.
MURPHY: Well, it's fun. Part of the study is we've collected these various predictions about the ultimate limits. Bruce Hamilton, the coach at Berkeley, has come out with a series of famous predictions that the limit has now been reached in the hundred-meter, or the shot put, or the discus, and he's become famous, ironically, for having his predictions exceeded time after time. Now, he bravely comes up with another set, and again they're broken. And so far none of these records seem firm. A few of them have stood for maybe twenty-five years, like the four-hundred-meter. But most of these are being broken all the time, and not just in track and field but in many, many sports. Not only that, new sports are being invented all the time; people don't realize how many new sports are emerging. I mean, we didn't have windsurfing so long ago; now they have windsurfing competitions. Out of mountain climbing have come very exotic forms of competition, now some of them consisting of these expert climbers who can go straight up a glass wall twelve feet high with just one or two holes. You throw your finger in the hole and vault over this glass wall.
MISHLOVE: Oh my goodness. Like the human fly.
MURPHY: Or spelunkers, these people who climb down into the depths of the earth. And now there are competitions for how small a hole you can get through, and now the only constraint really is the size of your head. If you can get your head through, you can contort your body to get through these openings.
MISHLOVE: My goodness.
MURPHY: Anyway, these sports are proliferating, so not only do you have the constant self-exceeding in the old sports, but you have new sports, and it's as if the whole world wants to explore the dynamics, the potentials, of this marvelous human body. So we have that --
MISHLOVE: And then you've gone way beyond just sports. You're looking at many different areas, from biofeedback to psychic healing to martial arts, religious practices, all of these disciplines -- hypnosis, in which individuals have shown extraordinary capabilities of transforming their own body.
MURPHY: That's right, that's right. Now, fundamental to the study is that when you have the body exceeding itself, something usually happens to the experience of the person, to the mind. A person can begin to approach these transformations from the body side, as an athlete does who's never read a single book of psychology in his life, or has never heard of Zen Buddhism. He simply wants to run a faster mile. And suddenly, in the middle of his training, he has an experience which a Zen Buddhist might call "big mind." Some of these people have told me their stories -- that suddenly they're running, and suddenly they're much bigger. Percy Cerruti, the great coach who taught Herb Elliott, probably the greatest miler of all time, his famous phrase was, "You have to be a big person to run a four-minute mile." What he meant was to be able to stand up to the pain, the fear, all the impediments in your mind that arise when you're training, you have to be big; but you can't be big out of your ordinary mind. You have to find some other center, some deeper center from which to operate. This was great old Percy Cerruti. We had him over here when he was almost eighty to tell us about his theories. So athletes of all sorts stumble into the mysteries of human consciousness simply by doing their sport. Now, conversely, many people who are practicing religious disciplines suddenly have these powers emerge, these siddhis. There has been a very puritanical attitude among many religious teachers, that you should stay away from these siddhis, and I think that is really a shortsighted view. It could be that these siddhis, these powers, these supernormal capacities, are the limbs and organs of our future nature, so to speak, trying to emerge. But the problem is, we have to understand what's happening, and what we're trying to do with this research project is to build up the beginnings of an understanding of the body's supernormal capacity, its exceptional capacity.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you seem to be saying that just as we, according to biologists, evolved from the amoeba over hundreds of millions of years, we're going to continue to evolve, and what you're documenting may be evolutionary precursors of the future human being.
MURPHY: Beautiful. That's well said. But I think, though, that the difference now is that whereas evolution in the past was automatic through these millions, or really a billion years, of multi-cell evolution -- a billion years, and through natural selection and mutation and variation you had this evolution going on, now for it to happen we have to become conscious of it. We can't just let it happen.
MISHLOVE: Perhaps at least we do have the opportunity of consciously --
MURPHY: We have the opportunity. It's not predetermined. My metaphysics is that we secretly are the divine nature, and that this whole world is a vast happening back into the divine, in an absolutely novel form. It's a vast happening; but that at each moment now it's touch and go, and the whole thing could come crashing down, because in fact most of us live our lives in haphazard, muddling fashion, and we're driven by all sorts of unconscious compulsions and drives, and the world looked at is a dangerous place, when you look at it as a whole. I mean, we obviously have to become aware, deepen our awareness of what's happening, so that we can steer it better.
MISHLOVE: Michael, so are you saying, then, that in effect the human body with its billions of cells is somehow comparable to or an analogy of our whole social system, billions of people?
MURPHY: Yes, right. I mean, to begin with, the body does have this fantastic functioning coherence and harmony. But you could say it's a harmony of disharmonies, and we're trying to make it a harmony of harmonies. It's a matter of degree. Just as it's miraculous how the world coheres and holds together, and yet we know how much suffering and how much danger there is in the world, it's the same in the human body. The body is prey to disease. It carries within itself enough germs -- you and I have enough germs in us right now to kill us and a lot of other people. If our immune system is not robust, if we do not have some hundreds of billions, or perhaps trillions, of T cells and B cells working, the body would fall apart instantly. All this new research that's happening now, that's teaching us, that we're learning through the study of AIDS, through psychoimmunology.
MISHLOVE: If I understand you right, you're in effect saying that when we learn how to control our bodies and really heal ourselves internally, then the social healing will follow as an outcome of that.
MURPHY: Well, I personally believe one can help the other. It's the chicken and the egg -- that the more peace we can establish with the Soviets, that helps us to do inquiries into bodily transformation. Conversely, if we're better as people, maybe in some ways we help the world get healthier. It works both ways, because we do reflect in ourselves. If we have a lot of stress, and the stress is caused by all the social problems, then we're going to be more prey to disease, we're not going to have the leisure to pursue these things. So both things are going on; but I think the thing we want to concentrate on here is that the entry point that I see, that has been largely neglected, is to bring the body more fully into educational systems or even into religious disciplines, or into the new forms of psychotherapy, so that it can participate more fully and more profoundly in the transformations of consciousness that either education or psychotherapy or religious practice are trying for.
MISHLOVE: And in your work you're basically surveying the various methods that are found today that can do this.
MURPHY: Yes. We're really looking at two things. On the one hand, the evidence for exceptional functioning -- to try to uncover these marvels, and to say, "Look, what an incredible story," and then find the pattern that connects these very diverse experiences -- whether in sport or in hypnosis research, or in religious practice, the martial arts -- and look at it that way. The second thing is to find what are the basic moves that people make to bring this exceptional functioning about. There are certain common acts, certain common processes, that mediate this change. So it's to try to open that up.
MISHLOVE: What are some of the really extraordinary changes of the human body that you've come across?
MURPHY: Well, of course, first of all, just from the field of biofeedback, there's no doubt whatsoever that we can control a single motor unit.
MISHLOVE: You mean like a single nerve fiber.
MURPHY: Well, a nerve fiber that connects to a few muscle fibers. A single nerve. Dr. Basmajian many, many years ago showed -- he does this in front of audiences, and teaches rather inexperienced subjects, not only to control the firing of a single motor unit, a single nerve cell connected to a few fibers, but to get drum rolls and double beats and triple beats going, and he magnifies these on a loudspeaker so that the whole audience can hear this person doing that. It seems that anything that you can bring to awareness -- any visceral function, any kinesthetic sensation -- you can get some measure of control over.
MISHLOVE: It's as if the body were an orchestra, and we can be the composer and the conductor.
MURPHY: Well, that's it. That's a good way to say it. Yes, that's true. Now, there are more exotic powers, and at this stage I don't know whether or not human beings have actually levitated, but there's some very provocative evidence in the canonization proceedings of the Catholic Church. You look at these very careful records they keep. Saint Teresa of Avila, the great mystic, in her autobiography said she physically levitated in her raptures. And ten separate depositions were taken before the devil's advocate, the Promotor Fidei, of nuns who watched her rise off the ground. And I have read some of these -- actually, we're having some of this material translated from Latin now, from the Acta Sanctorum, the big collection of evidence for these things -- and I find this the most compelling evidence of all. I don't believe they've actually levitated at the Maharishi course for the
MISHLOVE: In Transcendental Meditation.
MURPHY: -- where you can learn to levitate for two thousand dollars. They can hop.
MISHLOVE: Some kind of extraordinary muscle hopping that they're doing, it would seem.
MURPHY: Right. It's an athletic feat.
MISHLOVE: Could be a new event.
MURPHY: Could be a new event. It could be indeed. We could try it out, maybe in India.
MISHLOVE: Maybe some day they will levitate, if they keep it up.
MURPHY: Well, they claim they are. You know, it might be.
MISHLOVE: No, I've looked into that, and when you pinpoint them and ask them, "Is anybody hovering?" they will admit, when you speak to the scientists there, that nobody is hovering, which has to be part of the definition.
MURPHY: Well, I would say there's no proof yet of levitation, but it's interesting to look back where we do have records, from somebody who had such a reputation for integrity as Saint Teresa, who said she did, and you have ten separate witnesses to this. And you have Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who's the patron saint of rocketry now. He was said to have levitated on two hundred separate occasions, and it's kind of a marvelous story, because the person who presided over his canonization proceedings was the great Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, Prospero Lambertini, who wrote the rules for canonization proceedings. And when he became Pope he said, "I sat there and watched all these prominent judges, businessmen -- men I knew, men I trusted
-- who swore before the Congregation of Rites that Saint Joseph had risen off the ground to quite noticeable heights." He said, "I watched this parade of witnesses, and I finally had to believe them." His job was to knock the claims down; he was the devil's advocate. And he could not knock these people's claims down. So it was tremendous social hypnosis if they all believed falsely that he actually did levitate. So you have that kind of evidence. What's interesting is to take all these things, and you can place them kind of on a spectrum, and then we can make up our minds about them. And we can look for the commonalities -- what accompanies these prodigious feats? What goes on?
-- and we can begin to understand the process that mediates them, that brings them about, and hopefully out of that to construct a new yoga, or better educational methods. In other words, we would have to decide what we do with all of this.
MISHLOVE: You know, such people as J.B. Rhine and also Sir John Eccles have maintained that we, ourselves, our spirits, so to speak, control our bodies through a process similar to psychokinesis.
MURPHY: Yes. Well, you know, I personally believe that's a good way to look at it. If psychokinesis, mind over matter, can work on dice at a distance, certainly it can work on this living flesh that's our most immediate environment. Here we find ourselves inhabiting this thing, and the theory, of course, that's been proposed by a number of parapsychologists is that PK mediates mind; you're just lifting an arm.
MISHLOVE: That's right.
MURPHY: Now, what's interesting there, again, is you find from naive subjects like some of these athletes, who say, "Suddenly I felt this enormous force, and suddenly my body was doing things; it was like carried along." I and Rhea White --
MISHLOVE: Coauthor of The Psychic Side of Sports.
MURPHY: Right. I suppose Rhea is the leading archivist today in the field of parapsychology. She's collected more evidence for and more studies in the field than anyone else.
MISHLOVE: Yes, she has.
MURPHY: She collected four thousand instances of supernormal functioning among athletes, and we tried to weave this together in that book, The Psychic Side of Sports. But one of the constant findings is these athletes who claim that they have some power like PK. And then there's the lore, the great lore in these sports, that they affect the flight of the ball. Because a lot of these games are games of inches, like golf and baseball, and just that slight affecting. So PK, I would say, is something that we should try to understand.
MISHLOVE: If you had the power -- let's say you were going to live, Michael, another thousand, two, three thousand years, in this body, and you could control the change of that body, what would you want to do? What changes would you want to make?
MURPHY: (Laughs.) All right. The approach I'm taking to all this is to study what is going on. But we start to get in trouble if we project too much about what it should be, or what it is going to be.
MISHLOVE: Grow wings.
MURPHY: Yes. I don't think I'd like those wings, you know, that these angels have, and I don't know if I'd want some of these powers. What I'm going to suggest in this book is that this kind of inquiry really should drive us to a deeper appreciation of the study of consciousness itself, and that in the great religious traditions that have dealt with this question of, you'd better be careful about what you ask for, because you might get it -- you know, all these legends about getting in trouble --
MISHLOVE: Three magic wishes that end in disaster.
MURPHY: That's right, exactly -- that this whole thing could be just a vast Pandora's box. So what I think, where the answer comes to that, is from the depths of a consciousness that has to be liberated by something like the great liberating disciplines of the past -- the great religious disciplines, the great yogas, and so forth -- which get us in touch with, that make life enough worth living, to go on this very difficult and exciting adventure that bodily transformation would require. I like to think of it this way -- that if there's something to this, and if it became exciting to people, there would be some people who'd want to go all the way with it. You know, if there's a Mount Everest, somebody wants to climb it. You know, to Mallory they said, "Why are you doing this crazy thing?" He said, "Because it's there."
MISHLOVE: We could have athletic events for levitation, presumably.
MURPHY: That's right, sure. But basically people who wanted to pursue it would have to put twenty, thirty, forty years perhaps into this. But then, I think, there could be a lot of practical fallout for people who didn't want to pursue this so strenuously, and I think in fact that already is happening. For example, there are biofeedback clinics all around; there are all sorts of courses for self-awareness.
MISHLOVE: Psychic healing is another area that touches on all of this, that seems there's a good deal of research.
MURPHY: That's right, that's right. So in fact this is kind of happening already. But you could say there could be two kinds of directions for this kind of work as it unfolds. One would be to take it very strenuously forward; another would be to disseminate some of these understandings into the culture generally.
MISHLOVE: So you in effect are operating sort of as a new Darwin -- just documenting basically, traveling around the world or through the literature, and documenting what we know has occurred -- the evolutionary changes, the evolutionary precursors, and presenting this to the world and saying, now we ought to think seriously about what we're going to do with this information.
MURPHY: Right, right. You might say it's like the PE department of transpersonal psychology. It's a part that has been left out, and I feel it's a crucial part. And you see, never before in history could we understand the body like this. We never had instruments that could look at T cells and B cells. We didn't know that evolution was a fact in the old days. We didn't know that the human body could do all these things that modern sport is showing it could do. So we're in a new era now, and the body has to be brought in.
MISHLOVE: What are the kinds of developments you think we're likely to see in the next ten, twenty years?
MURPHY: Well, I think -- it's interesting, I was with Esalen over the last twenty-five years, and I got interested in these things as an undergraduate thirty-five years ago. Certain fields get hot for a while. Imagery has recently been a very hot field. Biofeedback in the seventies and late sixties was hot. Right now, looking at the structure of the body, psychoneuroimmunology, in the Soviet Union psychoendocrinology, these are very hot. I mean, it's very, very hard to keep up on the literature. Physical fitness research. So these fields, what they do is they fill out an evolutionary niche. You know, there's a certain amount to be discovered, everybody gets excited, then they kind of exhaust themselves, and the inquiry moves to the next niche, and so forth. I think three or four that are emerging right over the horizon right now are -- in the wake of psychoneuroimmunology there's going to be a renewed energy flowing into this whole thing of spiritual healing. William Broad's work on PK on living systems, this kind of thing is suddenly very possible, I think, so that the research money will follow that.
MISHLOVE: In other words you're suggesting that a psychokinetic or a mental influence would be stimulating the immune system of another organism.
MURPHY: Absolutely. I mean, gosh, you have to be paranoid not to believe this evidence. It's beautiful evidence -- you know, the power of prayer on plants, for example. We laugh at this, but it works. So that's one field.
MISHLOVE: I should think aging is going to be an important area.
MURPHY: Right now there's a tremendous amount of
MISHLOVE: The baby boom generation getting older.
MURPHY: Yes, that's right, and there's a tremendous amount of money pouring into that right now. Now. sport -- I think finally it's going to start dawning on people, what a prodigious thing we have in modern sport. And I don't think it will ruin or distract people's enjoyment of it, to understand the fantastic quality of --
MISHLOVE: The way the ancient Greek philosophers used to go out to the stadium and watch the athletes and develop philosophy.
MURPHY: I know. Well, Plato is full of metaphors from sport, and the Stoics loved sport. So I would say sport will give birth to -- I think, for example, it's a ripe study; there's twenty good Ph.D. theses right now waiting in altered states in sport.
MISHLOVE: Michael, we've got about a minute left. I wonder if you could talk a little bit, since you're such a healthy, young looking guy, how you've integrated some of this into your own life.
MURPHY: Well, I'm only seventy-five years old. But anyway, I'm just getting started. But I run --
MISHLOVE: I expect you're going to be a model for us for quite a long time.
MURPHY: I compete in these track meets.
MISHLOVE: You're not just a scholar here.
MURPHY: Well, I make my feeble efforts. I ran in the nationals in my age group in the mile recently, came in third. The guy in fourth place was a hundred yards behind
-- not that I'm competitive. But anyway, the main thing is to continue this study and see what it leads to.
MISHLOVE: Well, Michael, it's been a pleasure having you with us tonight.
MURPHY: Good to be here.
MISHLOVE: You're really a man who walks his talk, and I think we all appreciate it.
MURPHY: Well, thanks again, Jeffrey.
MISHLOVE: Thank you very much, Michael.