Extraordinary experiences, we all have them, yet we’re bombarded daily with catastrophe and trauma, as if nothing extraordinary ever happens on planet Earth. Why do we have this blind spot? Why haven’t we studied the human experience of the extraordinary?
What is synchronicity? When I was a zine writer I delighted in the way when you were on some kind of true creative beam the text and images you needed would drop into your hands like magic. Writers know what it’s like to open a book at random and find the answer to a pressing mystery. The full spectrum of improbable experiences we dismiss as coincidence.
Who wouldn’t want to immerse themselves in the extraordinary? Have we ever needed extraordinary creativity and vision, and faith in the extraordinary, more than now?
In the May 2009 Psychiatric Annals an article titled Characterizing High-frequency Coincidence Detectors proposed to “Describe the statistical and personality variables that influence detection of coincidence.” Some dreams do come true, sometimes we do know who is calling before the ringtone, and sometimes we do share powerful emotions with loved ones though separated by long distances. The study found that certain personality types are more inclined to notice coincidences and to find meaning in them. Stats and formulas are crunched as science is beginning to study the strange way human beings seem to anticipate the future.
I think it’s exciting that science is analyzing what was once the province of the occult. The occult has a habit of launching new sciences, the way alchemy and astrology gave birth to chemistry and astronomy. Who knows if that isn’t about to happen again? But what about having someplace to go to encounter the extraordinary?
With the Extraordinary Project, Suzanne Clores is on the cutting edge of both the academic and the social networking communities developing around the study of the extraordinary. Here’s the succinct introduction to the project provided on its website:
“The Extraordinary Project is inspired by the truth that coincidental and other hard-to-explain connections are common to all human beings across cultures.
“This forum invites people of all backgrounds and beliefs to share their extraordinary stories and view them in the greater context of universal experience.
“Participate by video recording your 2 minute story into a computer or a cell phone. Say your name and tell the story just exactly as it happened. Don’t censor yourself…
“Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. With the permission of the participants, edited stories will be featured every first Sunday of the month.
“The Extraordinary Project frames the odd coincidences and other examples of inexplicable “knowing” as normal human experience. In many parts of the world, the mind is culturally trained to deny or devalue an extraordinary incident immediately after one occurs. Adding our stories together creates an aggregate experience, and may bring relief, catharsis, and deeper insight into our human mental activity.”
Newtopia is delighted to introduce you to Suzanne Clores and the Extraordinary Project.
Video from the Extraordinary Project
Newtopia: What’s the latest on the Extraordinary Project?
Suzanne Clores: The Extraordinary Project is off to an exciting start. Our NY launch party is August 15 and being sponsored by the Scope Foundation, an international arts organization that supports emerging artists and curators in a wide variety of fields, including video and performance. The Chicago launch party is August 31st. We’re in the process of planning Extraordinary Parties in other cities. The parties are a practical forum where we can capture people’s extraordinary stories and then, with their permission, share them on the site.
N: Do you have plans to take the Extraordinary Project into other media?
S: Right now, iPhone video is the perfect medium for The Extraordinary Project. It’s meant to be a living history–sort of a modern version of the 19th century tome, Phantasms of the Living, but less mystical and more for the public. Ordinary people’s stories are, to me, the best way to ask questions and start a dialogue about the human experience of connections with what we can’t see. What I call, The Invisible. I definitely hope to have an audio component–these stories work so well on radio– and a book, too. As it grows, the Extraordinary Project will be a self-sustaining nonprofit dedicated to delivering media–whether in an art installation, radio documentary, film or narrative nonfiction–based on the human experience of coincidence and other hard-to-explain moments that happen to us and affect our lives.
Video from the Extraordinary Project
N: When deciding what content to include in the Extraordinary Project do you have a specific definition of extraordinary? How do you filter out merely implausible events? Is there a difference? What are the criteria?
S: My definition of ‘extraordinary’ comes from a few sources. I have a small community of neuro-psychologists and para-psychologists who are nice enough to have a dialogue with me. Their decades of research, as well as their peers’ research, has helped me to define extraordinary as “anomalous psychological experience” that is, anything that doesn’t fit with what we know to be true, ordinary, common, or understandable. This is my own, loose definition. I’m not a scientist and not working within the rigor of established scientific protocol. But I have an instinct for this subject. I always have. According to one psychologist who is working to establish an entire field of Coincidence Studies, I am what is known as a High Frequency Responder. I have had dozens of very unusual experiences that fit into the categories of precognition and telepathy, and even some experiences I don’t know how to categorize. I screen other people’s stories based on a combination of my own experience as well as the categories created by leading thinkers in the field. Eventually TEP will feature this data on the site, just to inform the cultural and social component a bit more.
N: Why do you think our culture ignores synchronicities and other extraordinary yet everyday human experiences?
S: One documented reason why our culture ignores synchronicities is because of a concept known as Fear of Psi (which means, Fear of Parapsychology). People have trouble accepting the evidence, even if it’s verifying what they know to be true. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of making mistakes, or no longer being able to feel anomalous information, because if you do then it means you’re different. If you’re different then you won’t fit into mainstream culture. On a deep level, no one will know what you are talking about. You will be ostracized. You will feel crazy. You might not know what is/isn’t real. You won’t be able to survive. That’s the gist of Fear of Psi. Neuropsychologist Julia Mossbridge schooled me on this topic, and put it to me this way: our cultural selves are behind this resistance. It keeps us safe, but it also turns off the lights.
N: Do you think the extraordinary just happens, or do we get more if we seek it?
S: I went through a lot of phases of answers to this question over the years. Eventually, though, after so many experiences that fall into the anomalous category, I began to think it was something very basic to my personal human make up. As it turns out, 30 years of science confirms this: anomalous experience is quite natural, and in some expert opinions, quite manageable. It’s the result of a sense, like any of the other senses. You put something on your tongue, and taste results. You touch a surface, and you feel it. We don’t know what triggers this extraordinary sense (my term, not an official term), which might be why our bodies and brains have a resistance to integrating it. But I believe we are an agent in it, somehow. That’s my personal opinion. But that’s not the opinion of everyone who participates in the Extraordinary Project. Some people believe it’s God–in fact, some are certain it’s God. Others are just as certain it’s nothing but random events. It’s different for everyone, which is why I like this project so much. It’s a true dialogue outside of the rigors of science.
N: What do you think of the festival culture and communities like Burning Man where the extraordinary becomes a way of life?
S: I’ve been to Burning Man only once, and my reaction was equal parts terror and fascination. The art was incredible, and the commitment people had to living in a world based on their art, and their vision, without censorship or need to conform to an ordinary society was probably very stimulating for the part of the brain–whatever it is–that governs the extraordinary sensibility. I had dear friends who were deeply nurtured by this festival, and everything about it–the costumes, the renaming of oneself– for this very reason. But that wasn’t my experience. I was too much of a fraidy cat. It was too much fire for me. When someone threw a Molotov cocktail at our tent that was it for me. I couldn’t wait to leave.
N: You’ve mentioned Colin Wilson as an influence, what other writers have inspired you?
S: It seems like every work of fiction I read during college inspired me. We studied a lot of early and mid 20th century American writers, and everyone one of them, from Edith Wharton and the Brontes to Kerouac and Hesse and Joseph Heller and Raymond Carver–all of their characters seemed to be in desperate opposition to their identity. That resonated with me. I can’t say I feel as moved by that struggle in the post-modern literature, although I like it for other reasons. I once took a class at Barnard called Enchanted Imagination, that took us from William Blake, Samuel Coleridge and Mary Shelly, all the way through Tolkien and Ursula LeGuin. That class really blew my mind, because it was poetry and literature grappling with the same questions I’ve always had. It’s why I got my MFA in Fiction.
N: Your book Memoirs of a Spiritual Outsider (2000), documented your spiritual searches, from your Catholic upbringing to your dalliances with Wicca, Sufism, Voodoo, Buddhism and Yoga, like a bee gathering honey from all sorts of flowers. It’s a record of American Metaphysical Religion in action. What do you think of the academic theory that America is evolving its own religion, an amalgam of all the others?
S: I like that image, like a bee gathering honey from all sorts of flowers! I don’t know about that theory, perhaps because my sense of American religious life is so fractured, based on my own experience. I had a solid catholic upbringing, and then tossed it, which felt very raw and difficult but necessary for me. What I now know, as an older, wiser, and hopefully more compassionate person is that everyone’s sense of religion is fractured at some point in his or her life. Religion is not meant to be stagnant any more than people are. I suppose it’s only natural that Americans are developing their own religion, but I don’t know if, in the end, they will even call it religion anymore. That term might be on its way out.
N: You’ve mentioned your youthful fascination with the NYC subculture of Warhol and the Velvet Underground, though it was before your time. What attracted you about that scene?
S: The Warhol scene was all about living in art to me. New York City was still carrying that energy around and I could feel it. When I was 13 and 14 and allowed to, under very controlled circumstances, walk around Greenwich Village with my friends on Saturday, I thought I could see the same world that became so popular in the 60s, even though it was the 80s. Of course, Andy Warhol was still alive then. When I was 20, a friend got me an internship at Interview Magazine. Warhol had died only a few years before. My job was unglamorous–I got coffee, mailed out packages, sometimes even walked Paige Powell’s dalmations–one of whom was named Andy. I loved the warehouse the best; it was like a sacred tomb. There were copies of every issue of Interview magazine ever, placed in impeccable order by year. I remember touching the first issue, which had a very dated design, what I associated with the 50s, and I realized then what art could do. How malleable it was in culture.
N: As a 9 year old you applied Silva mind control techniques attempting to telepathically fend off bullies. Are you ever tempted to try telepathy again, have you had further experiences with it?
S: I sometimes wonder if the Silva class is what made me a High Frequency Responder. I haven’t found any studies yet that have examined the psychic development of children who participated in that course. It would be interesting to check with the Silva people on that. It wouldn’t shock me. I can’t say that I voluntarily use telepathy or any of the other psychic exercises we learned. I do meditate. It does seem like the more I meditate, the more receptive I am to everything, anomalous psychological experiences included, though those happened anyway so it’s hard to say. There might be a connection. I know that Stephen Schwartz, an expert in the field of Remote Viewing, recommends a particular type of meditation before doing a Remote View. It’s a valuable tool, we all know, not just for the scientific protocols surrounding the study of the anomalous experience, but for everyone. I always feel better after!
Article written by Tamra Spivey
Newtopia staff writer TAMRA SPIVEY is a founding member and primary singer of Lucid Nation, executive producer of the documentaries Rap is War and Exile Nation, and associate producer of The Gits documentary. She was art editor and west coast editor of Newtopia Magazine in its former incarnation, collaborating on in depth interviews with whistle blower Michael Ruppert, ACLU and record business honcho Danny Goldberg, and grassroots political strategist Larry Tramutola. Follow her on twitter @MongrelPatriot.