The Replicability Problem

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 KJV

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As a professional intuitive, I am particularly interested in the thorny issue of replicability, a key component of rational methodologies. I have lots of stories, hundreds of clients, and remarkable successes to report from what my clients tell me, but not a single one of my stories is replicable. There is no control group, no exact circumstance, no dispassionate observer of our interaction, no machine measurement of brain waves or respiration pattern, and there may be no immediate result. Does that make my work any less interesting or valuable? Probably not. Is there a way to make it fit the scientific model and rational method? Also, probably not. Is the work less rigorous? I think not. What to do? I am coming to the conclusion that taking a phenomenological approach and describing the lived experience of intuition, rather than what should be or is expected to be, may be a good place to start.

In the mainstream scientific community, we rely on rigor and proof to showcase the material world. In the noetic scientific community, we rely on rigor and proof to showcase the nonmaterial world. By noetic, I mean qualities of inner knowing and awareness that are outside the domain of reason, but not necessarily in contradiction with it. If we are tied to rational methodologies alone to prove the ineffable qualities of consciousness, we face daunting problems before the research even begins. Yet our need to prove the noetic persists in traditional scientific terms. We like instruments and control groups and double-blind studies and measurable outcomes. We like dissecting consciousness so we can discover its component parts, just like we like dissecting animals who must be dead in order to discover their innermost workings.

We believe, perhaps rightly so, that it is we who are on the cutting edge of science, hoping and praying that eventually the materialist worldview will catch up with us and realize that consciousness creates the material world and not the other way around. We claim that our goal is to understand, but I think more often that goal is to prove, as wayward adolescents do when they try to impress their older, more established parents. My hunch is that as long as we stick to understanding, without necessarily proving, we may make some headway in communicating the noetic, the lived knowing to which we struggle to ascribe shared words and meaning.

Is rigor possible without replicability?

I like to think so. I believe that it is possible to access intuition on demand and to access it in a rigorous way. For me, an intuitive session involves my meeting one-on-one with an individual, occasionally with a couple. While each session is different in substance and sometimes style, I have adopted certain practices that occur each time, whether I am reading for an individual, a couple, or a business when there are multiple people in the room.

• I ask to know nothing in advance.
• I begin by taking a single breath.
• I state the name of the client and the date: “This is a session with on the .”
• I state my own name “…and I am Helen Stewart.”
• I ask the clients to say their own name the way they think of themselves. Even if they are inquiring about someone else they must say their own name first. This helps me focus primarily on that aspect of the other that is relevant to this particular client.
• I anchor the time together with an initial scribbled intuitive statement that comes from “out of nowhere.” Even if I have worked with the individual before, each conversation begins the same way without my asking or wishing to know why the individual is contacting me in this particular moment. Each statement is unexpected and often holds surprise.
• I read the statement back to the client verbatim.
• I begin speaking first to flesh out the statement without information or feedback from the client. Each statement is different, each based on intuitive information, usually a sentence, sometimes two or three. I have no stock phrases that I repeat to every client. Once finished with the introductory ritual, I let the client know that now it is permissible to make specific comments or ask specific questions about what I have said, about him/herself, or another individual or the company or project. Sometimes the information appears to be strictly personal, sometimes professional. Sometimes what I say surprises the client. Most often the response is, “Interesting. That’s why I’m calling you.”
• Each time the client asks about someone else I ask for the name of the someone else. These questions and answers are shorter than the first but the process is the same, eliciting a phrase that anchors the other individual for the client.
• Sometimes I ask the client to make a list. Initially, I ask only for the number of items on the list, rank order them before any content is filled in, and then tell the client my rank-ordered list of priorities, which we now fill in one at a time. For example, the client has five items in the order written down; however, I have ranked item number three on their list as my priority number one for them. Here, the making of a list, where relevant, is replicable; the content of each list is not.
• Typically I return to the original intuitive statement from time to time throughout the session as details emerge and make sense out of my original remarks.

That’s it. That is all that is “replicable” in the hour or so that I spend with the client. The rest is unstructured and depends on the flow of what is essentially a directed conversation, not a protocol. There is no control group and no external observer. What is replicable and comes with mastery is the expression of customer satisfaction at the end of our time together; the sense of wonder and joy.

This pattern of conducting an intuitive session seems to permit rigor in one sense: there is no information provided beforehand and I always begin each session in the same way, with a breath and an intuitive phrase. In a manner of speaking, we are both “flying blind” since neither of us knows what I will say to kick things off.

To make one session replicate another, however, seems impossible to me. I could replicate the physical sense of betrayal via a throbbing in the back I feel that is repeated from one client to the next who is facing similar issues. That sensation could perhaps be documented. Could the throbbing be measured by an instrument? I do not know. I cannot predict in advance that a particular session or client will trigger a betrayal issue, so I cannot set up instrumentation in the expectation of a particular outcome. Such preparation would, in and of itself, preclude the element of surprise that I depend on so much for accurate intuition.

Replicable methodology, not replicable content

There is nothing about content and, truthfully, very little about process that can be measured or controlled. Some information may be subject to immediate corroboration by the client and some may take months or years to to confirm. The mechanical process described above relays nothing about the extraordinary event that takes place within the confines and corners of a single hour of shared time.

Both client and intuitive are interested parties

Most often the client comes because there is a pressing personal or business issue and certain decisions are already overdue. What I say matters and both the client and I have a keen interest in making the time spent worthwhile. Detachment from the outcome is possible, however: the single breath that shifts me into intuitive mode helps ensure that my rational mind and tender ego move out of the way appropriately.

If the client is dealing with an issue that reminds me of similar events in my own life, detachment is critical. This is tricky because my personal experience may be useful and offer a deeper understanding of their situation; on the other hand, I am likely to interject bias and unwarranted judgment. If I project my experience onto the client’s the person will feel that I am coming out of left field and will likely dismiss my commentary. And they won’t call back. Again, replicability is more difficult since the number of variables has increased exponentially when my past experience is added to the mix.

Detached from the outcome, but not dispassionate

I have cried in sessions with clients, whether or not they are crying. I have felt unspeakable love, unspeakable loss, unspeakable beauty of potential that will only be expressed in the future. In these circumstances, I am personally detached from the outcome and yet I am feeling deeply with and for the other; I am anything but dispassionate. The willingness to feel, name, and express intense emotion is one of the most rewarding features of my work: love, fear, sadness, anger, all of it. I see it, I feel it, I name it, I help them transcend or achieve it. I am personally disinterested but metaphysically deeply invested in their success. I want to see them shimmer.
All of these sessions are powerful. None of them are replicable.

Forgetting the details… and more

In the middle of an intuitive moment, I am fully present. I am conscious and yet my awareness is slightly shifted. When the moment is over I begin to forget. If I have another appointment immediately following, the shift must occur quickly or I risk bringing information from the prior session into the next one, offering inaccurate and irrelevant information to the new person before me in person or on the screen or telephone. If my schedule is open I might remember for a while longer, but in any case, by the next day, I have no clue what specifically a client and I may have discussed. I know that sometimes a client will ask me the same question or set of questions more than once to see if there is consistency in my responses. They will tell me directly: “That’s the same thing you told me before.” Or, “But you said before that…. What is different now?”

There is a gift in the ability to forget quickly and move on, returning energy that is not mine to its rightful owner while avoiding repetition, bias, and laziness. That same forgetting makes replicability more difficult, however.

So what is replicable?

• Process: how I receive and communicate information
• Session format: how I structure time with the client
• Client statements regarding the accuracy of intuitive information given
• Client expressed feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction

While the process and format are similar, each session is unique, whether I have worked with the same individual for ten years or have never met them before. The key to receiving truly intuitive information is being open to surprise at every moment. Unlike controlled studies, I am not looking for the same result over and over. I am looking for the unique in the present moment.

“On the Record”

For matters in the public domain, intuitive confirmation might appear in the news but could take months or years to appear. Notwithstanding these appearances, eventual confirmation still does not address the replicability issue.

Contemporaneous documentation through audio/videotapes, emails, or testimonials, might provide evidence that I had information I could not have known except for intuition because the knowledge was either outside my domain or privileged and secret. As a matter of course I have published some predictions on my website in an effort to go “on the record.” The information came before the events, but the postings about the events are ex-post facto. Again, no replicability and no reporting on erroneous predictions; thus, no prediction score.

Furthermore, there are some events no one would wish ever to be replicated even if multiple sources predicted them, such as the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, and Chernobyl, Russia, or the earthquake in Haiti. We must find ways to codify and study such non-replicable events for which prior intuitive information exists.

The Chinese Restaurant

One of the most interesting examples of the power of intuition without replicability occurred for me in the 1990s. I have written about this elsewhere. Two British colleagues and I would connect virtually once a week for fifteen minutes and record our impressions. Each of us would “send” in successive order for five minutes and “receive” for the other two segments. During and following each session we would write down our impressions and exchange emails afterward which would automatically be date and time-stamped electronically. These were nothing like controlled experiments, but they were fun and raised a lot of questions that we are still trying to understand.

On a particular Monday, I forgot to send my colleague a cancellation notice about our session, but we later discovered that he saw what I was seeing anyway at the time we normally would have been sending back and forth intentionally. What my colleague saw was unusual and unexpected, but absolutely correct. We were not set up to record; I was not at my computer but sitting in a Chinese restaurant near a hospital where I had taken my daughter for an emergency. This was a one-time occasion, even for our loosely controlled weekly experiments. Replicability was out of the question, and yet the possibility of gaining an important understanding of the nature of consciousness was enormous. Is it time to give up replicability as a requirement for noetic scientific inquiry?

Evidence without proof

I am requesting that we lighten up a bit on our demand for rigor in the usual ways, let our minds wander just a bit off course, and explore the delights of inquiry and evidence without having to meet all the standards of scientific proof, starting perhaps with the requirement for replicability. We might come across a treasure trove of clues to the nature of consciousness that could straddle both materialist and non-materialist worldviews!

Published by Helen L. Stewart PhD

Endlessly curious, writer, speaker, blogger, intuitive, author, consultant. Retired university academic administrator and faculty member. Citizen of the world. Traveler. Human being. Perhaps in reverse order.

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