In giving some space here the other day to the rationale of Transcendental Meditation, I inadvertently gave some readers the notion that I believe in it.
Evidently one takes a risk, in giving a fair hearing to an idea, of seeming to endorse it.
Only the other day I was applauding William C. Baer, an associate professor of urban and regional planning at USC, for his amusingly satirical essay proposing that Los Angeles' historical landmarks be torn down because the essence of Los Angeles' history is change.
I infer from the answers in our letters-to-the-editor column that some readers took him seriously.
Now I find myself in the same position for my recent column on Transcendental Meditation.
You may remember that I had doubted a news story reporting claims by the Maharishi International University at Fairfield, Iowa, that it had brought about numerous benign effects in Iowa and the nation through mass meditation on campus.
I then received a long letter from David Orme-Johnson Ph.D., chairman of the university's department of psychology, alleging that the precise number of meditators needed to affect the national welfare is 1,514, that being the square root of 1% of the U.S. population; and the number needed to affect the world is 7,000, that being the square root of 1% of the world's population.
Orme-Johnson also sent a pile of statistical data, which I found too detailed, abstruse and impenetrable to read.
Noting that I am not a visionary and would not have believed in flight, the moon walk or the atom bomb, I said, "Who am I to scoff at Transcendental Meditation?" and I ended with the hope that Fairfield could meditate the Angels into the pennant.
I thought that would convey my skepticism.
Now I have received another letter from Orme-Johnson, enclosing another pile of statistical data. He thanks me "for so fairly presenting our case."
He adds: "My wife, chairperson of the literature department at Maharishi International University (MIU), predicted that after reading the first two sentences of my last letter you would throw it in the bin. Your balance in the face of a truly new idea is the mark of a real visionary, even though you may deny it. . . ."
Well, there you are. I'm a visionary. Actually, I think the true visionary in this affair is Orme-Johnson's wife. My inclination was to throw his mailing into the trash bin, but I am curious.
Anyway, I have presented his case.
Meanwhile I have received some alternate ideas.
"I am a statistician and a former director of psychological research for the U.S. Air Force," writes Keith Kelley of Van Nuys. "I have reviewed research published by the Maharishi International University at Fairfield, and believe me, Jack, they have it all wrong. The beneficial phenomena they report occurred all right, but they were not the result of Transcendental Meditation. They were caused by The Force , which was beamed down from flying saucers by benevolent aliens."
Well, who am I to scoff at that?
Charles Montgomery of La Quinta notes that "the square root of 1%" of the population is a suspiciously arcane number. "People who frame their metaphysical pronouncements in such obscure words are just trying to obfuscate their audiences," he observes. "It is a pretentious effort to make their simple words sound profound. . . . When he uses the mystical/magical sounding expression 'square root of 1%' he arouses the attention of all geese and gulls. . . ."
Tom Barnard of San Clemente wonders why mass meditation didn't help the prisoners of Auschwitz. "The unfortunate inmates must most certainly have spent considerable time and effort meditating and praying, though perhaps not precisely in unison; but it seems difficult to believe that so much mental effort would fail to show some benefit. Eventually those who survived were liberated, but too late for most of those who meditated. . . ."
I said, by the way, that I would turn to my friends in the Committee for the Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal for an opinion on Transcendental Meditation, even though Orme-Johnson insists that the method is scientific, not paranormal.
Ed Newman of Woodland Hills points out that James Randi, the celebrated magician and skeptic, and a member of CSICP, has already investigated the Maharishi's claims and declared them fake in his book "Flim-Flam" (Prometheus).
Randi says MIU's claims that its mass meditations have brought benign results not only in nearby Fairfield, but throughout Iowa and the nation, are not supported by the facts.
In his second letter, by the way, Orme-Johnson says TMers do not wish that "the crime rate decrease, the stock market go up, or international conflicts be resolved;" the meditator simply allows his mind to settle down into its simplest state, "in which it is identified with the unified field, the source of order in nature."
This, through some process that is too occult for me to follow, creates "an influence of coherence in collective consciousness which supports evolutionary tendencies" that contribute to progress, fulfillment and happiness.
Orme-Johnson says the TMers are going to have a powwow in Washington, D.C., in July, and that if they have as many as 5,000 meditators there will be "a significant decrease in international conflicts throughout the world," plus significant rises in the Dow Jones Industrial Averages and a decrease in infectious diseases.
Well, July is plenty of time. I don't care how they do it. I just hope they can meditate the Angels into the World Series.
I wonder if it's too much to ask them to meditate the Dodgers in, too.