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Online journal encourages science to vent their spirituality

Thousands and thousands of scientific journals unlock the secrets of the physical world. But what of the metaphysical world? For scientists with a transcendental or spiritual bent, there is the online journal TASTE.

TASTE, which stands for The Archive of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences, provides members of the scientific community with an opportunity to share their encounters with the spiritual world. It was founded in 1996 by Charles T. Tart, a professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, Calif. He says he has been contacted by hundreds of professors and scientists over the years who claim to have had unusual or unexplainable experiences.

“A week doesn’t go by without me receiving an e-mail from a scientist wanting to discuss this subject,” Tart said. “Many of these people are suffering from great embarrassment and fear of being shunned by their peers.”

About 80 of the most unusual experiences are on the journal’s Web site, issc-taste.org.

What happened to Dr. Susan Stangl, an expert in family medicine at the UCLA Medical School, was “more strange than profound,” she said. “Seven years ago I woke from a dream with a sequence of seven numbers ingrained in my mind. I figured it was a local number in Century City, where I lived at the time.”

Stangl called the number and discovered it was a local ophthalmology practice where a former lover of hers from medical school now worked. “He was going through a very painful divorce,” Stangl said. “We got back in touch and are now very good friends. I can’t explain what happened, it’s just very strange.”

Dr. Jerry Wesch, a psychologist in Chicago, had his first spiritual experience at age 11 while playing in a Little League baseball game in his hometown in southwest Nebraska.

Fearful about how he would perform when he came up to bat, Wesch said, “I started praying that I wouldn’t embarrass myself.”

Then, Wesch heard a reassuring voice that said, “You'll hit it into right field and it will be all O.K.”

“As I stood there the whole world changed,” Wesch said. “The lights got brighter and the crowd went silent. Everything went into slow motion, and as the ball came at me it seemed to get bigger. I struck it and it flew straight into right field. I collapsed to the floor, laughing hysterically.”

Dr. Jon Klimo, a clinical psychologist of 32 years who lives in San Francisco, believes that he had a brush with the spiritual world when he heard a voice calling his name as he lay in bed one morning.

“As I lay there,” Klimo wrote on the TASTE Web site, “I heard, absolutely clear as a bell, what sounded like a fairly deep mature male voice. It only said one word. It said my first name, ‘Jon.’”

Klimo believes that the scientific community is far too quick to judge people like him for sharing such experiences. “In their eyes, it is unscientific, mushy-headed and not worthy of their time,” Klimo said.

Weird as those occurrences may be, those who have them shouldn’t feel ostracized by their peers.

“I don't think the manifest scientific community would actually go so far as to shun” these scientists, said Paul Zachary Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota. “But I imagine they might roll their collective eyes and sigh despairingly at such a silly pursuit.”

Has Myers had any personal experience that defies scientific explanation?

“Yes, many,” Myers said. “The first mitotic division I made as a zygote is incompletely defined scientifically.” He added, “That something is incompletely explained by science does not imply, however, that fairies did it.”

Tart finances his research into these unusual experiences from his own pocket, in addition to grant money he receives from nongovernment institutions like the Fetzer Institute, a nonprofit foundation that fosters research into the mind and spirit, and the Parapsychology Foundation, a nonprofit foundation providing support for the scientific investigation of psychic phenomena.

He says it’s difficult to get financing from mainstream scientific foundations and journals. “Isn’t it strange that these scientists want to stop research on this subject and dismiss it?” Tart said. “That strikes me as being reminiscent of religious orthodoxy rather than science.”

Tart himself has not experienced any of the profoundly unusual occurrences that his Web site describes. “I don't think of myself as a particularly spiritual person,” Tart said. “Mainly a scientist with a deep intellectual interest in the spiritual."

E-mail: ser2129@columbia.edu