With Jeff Hawkins’ OT Abilities blog entry getting so much attention that Marty Rathbun felt he had to step in and do some damage control, I thought, what the hell, I’ll weigh in, too.
(Update: Jeff is keepin’ the pressure on with OT Abilities, Continued. Go Jeff!)
For those not familiar, “OT abilities” are the superhuman powers that Hubbard said would come with doing Scientology’s Operating Thetan levels. They include having out-of-body experiences at will, the ability to create and destroy universes, and complete control over MEST – Matter, Energy, Space and Time.
Do OT abilities exist?
I think that as we go through life, some really strange, often inexplicable stuff happens to us.
I also think that the human brain is an amazing organ, capable of creating some amazing effects and convincing itself of some pretty incredible things. However, it also has some severe limitations – and ironically, one limitation is its inability to accept that it has limitations.
But let’s go back to the amazing stuff the brain can do. And let’s start by throwing a ball.
It is possible to mathematically describe the path of a ball thrown through the air. If you know the size of the ball, the speed and angle at which it was thrown, and the prevailing winds, you can calculate exactly where the ball will land.
Or you can just stick your hand out and catch it.
So how is it that we can catch a ball? Are we all amazing mathematicians? Do we have a psychic ability that tells us where the ball will land? Is it an “OT ability?”
Of course not. Our eyes watch the ball, our brain works out the arc and tells our hands where to go to intercept the ball. It’s not psychic and it’s not magic — it’s simply one of the things our brain is hard-wired to do. And with a little practice, we can do it perfectly every time.
Standing up is another great example. Balancing a 6-foot 170-pound multi-jointed object on its narrow end is a difficult thing to do. And yet our brain constantly makes the minute adjustments necessary to compensate for our movements and maintain stability. An OT ability? Nope — it’s just part of being bipedal.
Catching a ball and standing up are truly amazing feats, and yet because they are so familiar, we hardly think about them. So why is it that when our bodies or minds pull off an amazing feat that we’re not familiar with, we rush to attribute it to the supernatural?
I think this has something to do with our culture of education. Learning has become such an integral part of the human experience that we even talk about natural abilities as learned, such as a baby “learning” to walk. A lot of this stuff is instinct, hard-wired into our brains, but we don’t see it that way.
So when we react in some unexpected way out of instinct – for example, when we have a sudden stressful event, like a car accident, and time seems to slow down, or when a dozen small hints too small to take conscious notice of suddenly coalesce into a notion that comes true, or when our mind simulates an experience so realistic that we are convinced it actually happened – we attribute it to something otherworldly.
It’s not. It’s just our brain – our amazing, spectacular brain – doing what it has evolved to do.
Now, I’m not saying that inexplicable stuff doesn’t happen; I’ve experienced it myself. But most of the time what we think is inexplicable – and I include “me” in that “we” – really does have an explanation. We simply don’t understand it.
The problem is that we have a hard time understanding that there are things we can’t understand. That, too, is hard-wired into our brains. Anyone of us can easily imagine a stack of 3 pennies or a stack of 10 pennies. But ask someone to visualize 10,000 pennies, or 300,000 pennies, or 33,487,562 pennies, and we just can’t do it. All we imagine is a huge stack of pennies. We’ve gone beyond the capacity of our brains.
And that doesn’t sit well with us. How is it that we can build magnificent cities, send human beings to the moon and back, catch a ball flying through the air, and yet we can’t accurately visualize a lousy hundred bucks’ worth of pennies?
So instead of simply accepting that there are some things our magnificent brains cannot handle, we invent solutions that fit the limits of our understanding: An omnipotent God. Psychic powers. Operating Thetan abilities.
I’ve wandered a bit from the original topic, so I’ll sum up: From what I have observed, Operating Thetan abilities don’t exist, in that there are no special abilities that people gain expressly and exclusively from Scientology’s upper levels.
So what about all the phenomenon that Scientologists describe as “OT phenomenon?” Are they delusional? No. They are simply experiencing the same phenomenon that other human beings experience, some real and some simply perceived, but all of it just outside of human understanding – not because they are simple, mind you, but because these things push the limits of what the human brain can comprehend.
And because L. Ron Hubbard conditioned them to credit all of their “gains” to Scientology – and because these people want to experience benefits from Scientology – and because these normal human experiences loosely fit the “gains” promise by Hubbard – they attribute them to “OT abilities.”