- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Could it be that they’re not all charlatans — the Uri Gellers, the Amazing Kreskins, the “spoonbenders,” paranormalists and mentalists? A 2004 movie still hot on the cult-house circuit and video-store shelves, “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” which canvasses all manner of New Age spiritualists, makes some startling claims about the unused potential of human gray matter.

“I believe it’s endless,” says “Bleep” co-director Betsy Chasse. “Anything we can dream up, we can do.”

How endless?

Endless enough that New Jersey should take up Kreskin’s offer to be the state’s “watchdog,” a role in which he’ll suss out lying politicians through powers of cerebration?

Endless enough that we should think twice when we laugh at Mr. Geller’s claims of moving compass needles, erasing computer disks and bending metal through thought?

Stop thinking so small-time: One of “Bleep’s” many talking heads — it’s mostly a documentary, but includes live action and animation sequences — says the laws of physics are far more manipulable than we wised-up post-Einsteinians presume. Joseph Dispenza, a trained chiropractor now in the “miraculous healing” field, says, in high seriousness, that we should be able to walk on water.

You heard it right: an honest-to-God “Jesus miracle,” as the incredulous prison guards say in the movie “The Green Mile,” a Stephen King adaptation with mystical overtones about a man with miraculous healing powers. Except it wouldn’t be miraculous — merely a reasonable application of high mental concentration.

“Why not?” says Ms. Chasse, on the phone from her home in Washington state. “We only use a small fraction of our brains.”

Levitation, mind-reading, remote viewing (think X-ray vision) — Ms. Chasse says it’s all being done and documented. “People think it’s crazy because it’s so far out of our box. We’ve been conditioned to believe we can’t do these things.”

She adds: “Jesus said, ‘You can do anything I can do.’”

I’ve read the Gospels, and I’m pretty sure I missed that chapter and verse.

Between now and the next water-walking, however, it turns out there’s plenty of real, peer-reviewed science to keep our heads permanently tilted in amazement. Consider biofeedback, a form of therapy that trains patients to physiologically repair various ailments.

Hooked up to machines that measure biological responses (pulse-waves, basically) these patients can, for example, think — hard — of fire and thereby increase the temperature of their fingers. This helps stabilize their nervous systems, which in turn can ease heart-rates and blood pressure.

Steven Baskin, a clinical psychologist and director of the New England Institute for Behavioral Medicine in Stamford, Conn., has seen biofeedback help asthma sufferers better control their breathing and consequently require less severe medicine regimens. He’s seen those with bladder incontinence learn how to reduce muscle contractions through pelvic-floor biofeedback exercises.

“Every system in the body has a biofeedback device,” Mr. Baskin says. “All you’re doing is feeding back physiological responses that the person is normally not aware of.”

In Mr. Baskin’s view, biofeedback is mainstream science, no reason to get ourselves in a quasi-mystical tizzy. Biofeedback is darn hard work and no Vegas-style illusion.

The realm of Mr. Geller, the famous Israeli paranormalist, and the Amazing Kreskin, who will soon appear at a dinner theater near you, is something different altogether, Mr. Baskin says. “It’s magic. They’re doing nothing but fooling you.”

But how far can biofeedback and other “mind-over-muscle” therapies seriously go, if not all the way to the miraculous, or even the paranormal?

Eric Peper, director of the Institute for Holistic Healing Studies at San Francisco State University, is optimistic, if not quite as bullish as the “Bleep”-ers. Spontaneous remission of tumors — check. Piercing oneself with a sword and blocking out the pain — check. The stuff of Gelleriana? We’ll have to wait a few more millennia.

Even those feats that are within the realm of reality, Mr. Peper says, are reserved for a lucky few.

“There’s a difference between what’s probable and what’s mathematically possible,” according to Mr. Peper. Some cancer patients have the seemingly impossible within their grasp — but “most are going to die,” he says.

Mr. Baskin directs me to the thoracic medicine journal Chest if I want to learn more about cutting-edge biofeedback research. So much for my plan to watch those “X-Files” DVDs.

For laymen who insist on playing along, there is, of course, an interactive computer game. It’s called “The Journey to Wild Divine.” You play it by manipulating your heart rate, which is measured by biofeedback finger sensors. Meditation opens closed doors. Laughter juggles balls.

Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama think “Wild Divine” is the bomb. They say it’ll help get me in touch with my inner core and improve my mental health.

What the hey? It beats slogging through Chest.

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