Intentional Retrieval

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Beyond "Intentionality" as Misunderstood New Age Buzzword

The notion 'we create our own reality' is a relative truth with origins in the existential philosophers of the 19th Century. It can also be motivated by control issues - as a control fantasy rather than a proper characterization of lived reality. From a Jungian point of view, any 'intentionality' we could exert would be subject to the competing agendas of autonomous archetypal forces and dynamics that don't give a fig about your personality needs. Whether we think we are changing reality through a focused act of will or even by "broad-beam" self-transformation the whole scenario may be a self-delusion cast in pseudo-scientific and/or quasi-spiritual terms.

The fashionable term for mind/matter interaction is now "intentionality", as if that explains anything. You may as well call it free will, or True Will, like the magicians do. Yet to name it intentionality doesn't make it so. It is a fantasy of intentionality, a subjective hypothesis that human intervention at the subtle level perturbs outcomes PHYSICALLLY in some desirable manner. Which is not to ignore psychosocial effects or mobilization of immune function.

People often mystify their experiences unnecessarily when they don't have a more plausible explanation. The notion that the all-knowing nonlocal field identity exerts some influence over environment and personality may simply be mythopoiesis. The real question is why do all cultures engage in mythopoeisis? Identification with the field body may just be another way of being attached to a belief to explain the Unknowable.

Approaches to psi include the skeptical physicalists, supernaturalists, esoterics, and psionics or the research orientation.


10.16.06; Vol. IV No. 2 Journal of Nonlocality and Remote Mental Interactions, OpEd article.

by Iona Miller, 2006

"I suppose that sooner or later the physicists will complete the catalogue they've been compiling of the ultimate and irreducible properties of things. When they do, the likes of spin, charm, and charge will perhaps appear on their list. But aboutness surely won't; intentionality simply doesn't go that deep...If the semantic and the intentional are real properties of things, it must be in virtue of their identity with (or maybe of their supervenience on?) properties that are themselves neither intentional nor semantic. If aboutness is real, it must be really something else." (Fodor 1987, 97)

Doctrine of Intentionality

Jung (1961) said, "To this day God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly; all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of life for better or worse.

There are several subcultures whose worldviews embrace psi phenomena as Reality, or react as if they do. They range through governments to tribal people to new agers and neo-pagans to leading-edge researchers. Even the most skeptical scientist can be compartmentalized or even superstitious in his or her subjective thinking at times.

To conduct sound research, we must catch ourselves in the act of trying to verify our own preconceptions, a “perception Lab.” This is an intrisic problem of armchair scientists who are long on theory and short on experimentation. We have to pierce beyond the perceptual artifact to solid postulates, testable hypotheses, rigorous protocols, and acurate statistical analysis.

But psi may prove to be more than just an artifact of primitive belief. Meta-narratives emerge as mythologizing, literature, psychology, sociology, religion or philosophy and cutting-edge science theories. The philosophy of science describes the dynamics of the scientific method. The issue of intentionality is riddled with philosophical problems. Moreso, remote mental intention. Is a brain state the template for action?

The loose use of the term intentionality as a buzzword is an import into pop culture from philosophy. As a collective belief, it has boomeranged back into the public and new age thought from psi research meta-analysis, justified by the research of Radin, Emoto, Schlitz, Targ, Taggert and others.

"Psi intentionality" is a term lifted from remote viewing and other distance intentionality practices and psi energetic theories. It has been confounded with physics notion of nonlocality, entanglement, resonance and "spooky action at a distance", peculiar to particular theories of quantum mechanics, and holism or holographic models. It is shorthand for what might be called quantum psychokinesis (PK), a form of mind over matter. In psi theory, the transmission of information from a sender to receiver is less problematical than physical influence.

Intentionality bears on ontological and metaphysical questions about the fundamental nature of mental states: perceiving, remembering, expectancy, believing, desiring, hoping, knowing, intending, feeling, experiencing, and so on. What is it to have such mental states? How does the mental relate to the physical, i.e., how are mental states related to an individual's body, to states of his or her brain and to his or her behavior?

Intentionality is a pervasive feature of many different mental states: beliefs, hopes, judgments, intentions, love and hatred all exhibit intentionality. In an ideal world we can mentally wish things into and out of existence. It can seem that consciousness and intentionality pervade mental life. Perhaps one or both somehow constitute what it is to have a mind.

But achieving an articulate general understanding of either consciousness or intentionality presents an enormous challenge, part of which lies in figuring out how the two are related. In plain talk, we consider a behavior intentional when it appears purposeful or done intentionally -- that is, based on reasons (beliefs, desires) and performed with skill and awareness.

Just because the subject of psi remains objectively problematical doesn’t mean we should stop systematic investigation, both scientifically and metaphysically. Babies don’t know how the world works so they constantly keep testing their environment, over and over.

Are we just cosmic babies, feeling our way along, blindly? We are when it comes to proofs of mind over matter. Perhaps intentionality is a permissible metaphor until we have a better shorthand for the effect. But we really need a bigger and better metaphor already without trotting out the well-worn notion of paradigm shift - another buzzword.

Quantum Chaos

We must be willing to question our own beliefs, comprehending the nature of subjectivity, experimenter bias, and memes or groupthink. The mind deploys them as explanations for unknown agency, the blindspots of our consciousness. As ever, any postulate and hypothesis we can make depends on "which" physics it is based in, since there are several competing models: Copenhagen, Many-Worlds, Transactional, M-Theory, Plenum Physics, hyperspace, etc.

This simple fact makes quantum physics a domain of self-contained, mutually exclusive belief systems with their own presumed truths about the primordial nature of Reality. New Agers and armchair philosophers often confound them together into half-baked theories, sometimes compounded by theories of “ascension”, aliens, and evolution.

Philosophically, what does it mean that man's intention now substitutes for the exiled Demiurge, or divine "maker"? We've put ourselves in place of God or nature to augment healing, muddle about in global politics, and presumably perturb our evolutionary arc. We have to question how much more effective realworld pro-active behavior might be, considering that "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." There is no end to the places the human ego would like to meddle in structure, meaning and labeling.

Ordinary intentionality means being directed toward some goal. It comes down to a control issue; who's got it and who wants it. Perhaps the most compelling results come from the realms of mindbody healing by deploring human beliefs and activating the mysterious placebo effect for shorter or longer periods of time.

But this in no way means that this intentional decision process is a quantum process, since the mechanisms may be largely molecular and biochemical -- an errorof domains. We know that both psychosomatics and psychosemantics are influential. Current research suggests we make our decisions unconsciously.

“Fill in the blank” explanations can be outlandish, possible, plausible, probable, or match reality. The distinction between "true believers" and skeptics comes at the point of interpretation of phenomena, attributions of the source of events or perceptions, whether one's model is psibernetics, "magical thinking", external agents, nested hierarchies, holistic mysticism, or physicalism.

A theist will tend to attribute positive expectations of “agency” to God, a pagan to nature, a humanist to self, and an atheist to complex dynamics, or randomness,. A debunker is dismissive. A true skeptic remains open-minded, at home in the ambiguity. And the loose use of the buzzword ‘intentionality’ leaves its agent or means totally ambiguous, meaning not mechanism.

Is anomalous intentionality a catalyst? It came into the psi lexicon from consciousness studies and a few psi experiments that showed some promise suggesting mind/matter interaction. The protocols of all these experiments are questionable in terms of rigour even though the field polices itself. Replication for these studies is far from exhaustive.

So, maybe it isn't outlandish, and perhaps it is possible, and maybe its plausible. But in no way is it probable. And we don't really know the deepest nature of reality to know whether it matches or we are simply deluding ourselves with a romantic notion.

My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

This fashionable term for mind/matter interaction, "intentionality", fails as a shorthand to explain anything. "Free will" has been dismissed as an agent by most consciousness researchers, though evolutionary intentionality is connected with the dynamic behavior of systems. You may as well call it karma, luck, or True Will, like the magicians do. Karma, whether you believe in it or not, at its root just means natural consequences of behavior.

Does it really work to claim an intention to be intentional? Doesn’t intentionality always imply future tense rather than concrete results? If the paradoxical implication is that the intentional result is acausal, isn’t that a pretzel-twist in logic?

Jung tried to account for an acausal factor with his notion of synchronicity, but it is hardly testable, though most of us notice meaningful coicidences all the time. But then human beings have an inclination to look for "signs". Why this is so is another avenue of sociological investigation.

Even in clinical research, to name psi expression intentionality doesn't make it so. In actual fact, most of us can’t form enough intentionality to drink the amount of water the body needs each day or eat healthy. The unresolved New Year’s resolution is a truism.

What makes us think we can be more consistently intentional in the extradimensional? It is a ‘fantasy of intentionality,’ a subjective hypothesis that human intervention at some subtle level perturbs outcomes in some desirable manner. It might express our insecurity in an uncertain, uncontrollable world more than a physics process.

People often mystify their experiences unnecessarily when they don't have a more plausible explanation. It is endlessly interesting to speculate on, but the notion that the all-knowing nonlocal field identity exerts some influence over environment and personality may simply be mythopoesis, myth-making.

In mythopoesis many cultural forms meet and form an organic fusion. Does the contemporary revival of myth with focus on our creative potential point to the possibility of a unified world, a neo-Utopian variant where we wish and make it so? If collective intentionality could create a better world, why didn't we do it long ago?

The real question is why do all cultures engage in mythopoeisis? Mythopoesis means change, re-mythologizing in times of cultural chaos. What I mean here is not a mis-spelling, but an amalgamation of mythopoesis or story-making and the autopoeitic self-organization of chaos theory; self-maintaining unity.

Autopoiesis describes the way living systems address and engage domains in which they operate. What human need do these mythically patterned meta-theories fill? Identification with the field body may just be another way of being attached to a belief to explain the Unknowable, to push the agent beyond the threshold of observability.

The Emperor’s New Intentionality

The notion "we create our own reality" is a relative truth. From a Jungian point of view, any "intentionality" we could exert would be subject to the competing agendas of autonomous archetyal forces and dynamics that don't give a fig about your personality needs. Existentially, we are moved by more than a single metaphor, a single role, a singlular self-image. Whatever you choose to call them, we harbor nested competing agendas, conscious and unconscious.

Even in chaos theory, many forget there are strange repellors as well as strange attractors. Resonance is another buzzword rapidly equalling the old standby of spiritualism, “vibrations”, which has found vindication in allocation of electromagnetic frequencies as well as quantum and vacuum fluctuation But somehow, both in our lives and quantum mechanics, these extradimensional entanglements are unobservable, beyond physics, and therefore strictly speaking, metaphysical.

The ancients conceived of magic working through focus and will. Now a diffuse holistic awareness is preferred, perturbing the quantum flow. Whether we think we are changing reality through a focused act of will or even by "broad-beam" self-transformation the whole scenario may be a self-delusion cast in perennial truths and pseudo-scientific terms.

If it bothers or offends you to think otherwise, this is more likely true. There is emotional attachment there, not clarity. If you think you can do it by "aligning" yourself rather than manifestation, why are you harboring fantasies of misalignment? It makes little sense that the particle "intends" and the field "corresponds". In Nature, the reverse leads to manifestion. You wouldn't stand on a riverbank trying to levitate a drowning child. You would take action.

Is this notion harboring a demiurgic God-complex, a control fantasy in an otherwise uncontrollable world? If we believe in God, why do we presume to interfere with that fiat by introjecting our small agendas? Does it conceal a spiritual hubris to be co-equal or co-creator with divinity? Or, more to the point, why would we look to the divine as an agent of psychophysical dynamics?

Nonlocal Intentions

Intentions may or may not exert a nonlocal organizing effect. They do when they mobilize effective action. Often the 'butterfly effect' of chaos theory is invoked for pumping holistic mental effects up to macro- proportions. But chaos theory doesn't organize through intentionality; just the opposite, by criticality.

Correlation is not identity. There is appearance being and process being, which correlate with particle/wave. We are both particle and field, and they are both complex, and may be analogous or metaphorically connected to the hypothesis of intentionality - but that doesn't make it real: it makes it a belief, an operational worldview. The ego somehow facilitating the holistic self to manifest is solipsistic, because the field self is in no way diminished even by negative thinking by personality.

If you think distant intentionality works for you, that is an interpretation, an arbitrary allocation of a cause to a perceived effect, which may be largely unrelated and/or statistically irrelevant. Once the narrative is "set", that becomes the story and the person zealously sticks to it, right or wrong. This is human nature and the nature of emotional investment. It may be the eternal human yen to create order from the fear and chaos of our lives and cleave to faith in the Great Beyond, whatever one thinks resides there.

A myriad of "brandable" new age technologies are based on non-scientific interpretations and confabulations of scientific theory. Though having its own organic root in metaphysics, new age tech has hijacked and romanticized the philosophical territory of psi research with its own prosaic interpretations. Because it makes a romantically appealing metaphor doesn't mean it matches up with naked Reality. Often incompatible physics theories are confounded together for the so-called explanations.

Psi and Intentionality

Four models of psi intentionality are drawn from relativity theory and two from quantum mechanics. First is the energetic transmission model, which presumes the effects of conscious intention are mediated by an as-yet-unknown energy signal.

Second is the model of path facilitation. According to general relativity, gravity "warps" space–time, easing certain pathways of movement, so acts of consciousness may have warping and facilitating effects on the fabric of the surrounding world.

Nonlocal entanglement is drawn from quantum mechanics, suggesting people, like particles, can become entangled so they behave as one system with instantaneous and unmediated correlations across a distance.

Actualization of potentials reflects the act of measurement in quantum mechanics collapsing a probabilistic wave function into a single outcome. This notion of observer effect relates only to the standard Copenhagen interpretation of QM. Researchers claim conscious healing intention and alignment may actualize one of a series of possibilities; for example, recovery from a potentially lethal tumor.

Psi researchers must be careful to see these explanatory buzzwords like 'alignment' and 'intentionality' for what they are, smoke and mirrors explaining nothing, not what some say they are. Like the next new buzzword, "extradimensionality", it is just a displacement into the Unknown of a process that may be something entirely other than what the experiencer thinks it is.

To get to the Truth we have to follow the age-old axiom to ‘Know Thyself,’ and be willing to engage in some conceptual atom-smashing of our cherished notions. Otherwise, one engages in a pre-conceived, self-confirmatory journey for validation not a Quest for knowledge.

Rather than extradimensional participation in some subtle physics process, it may just be another trick of the mind - in the end, nothing more than a concept that doesn't match up with nor describe Reality. Oh sure, intentionality may function mystically in some nonfungable parallel universe, or that could be just another mentally attractive perennial fantasy. Those most concerned with “changing the paradigm” may be among those most firmly attached to their own idiosyncratic interpretations.

If there are memes in our culture, there are strange attractors in our thought patterns, that can harden into fixed beliefs. The fact is we don't know, and anyone who charges you and says they do is a either a fraud or self-deluded, or both. We are components of mythic culture which recursively regenerates itself in a network of self-similar productions.

Anywhere there is non-equilibrium, a gap in personal or cultural awareness, myth will self-organize a meta-narrative to fill the lacuna. Mythic beliefs are self-contained. Even fantasies of holism automatically exclude other options, except through embedding and hierarchy.

There are many aspects of psi, some more credible and testable than others. ESP (information transfer) is the most plausble, psychokinesis (mind over matter) most problematical. Serious researchers are beyond parlour tricks such as seances, regressions, or ghostbusting.

Still, there is no scientific or spiritual consensus about the mechanics of physics or consciousness, much less mind/matter interaction or the influence of one mind on another organism. Some models appeal to our intuition, others are profoundly counter-intuitive. But Mystery doesn't need to be metaphysical, mystical, nor dismissed as "noetic nonsense". It simply isn't limited by any of our concepts nor scientific blindspots. We can just admit we stand in the Mystery.

The way to keep a path alive is to walk on it. Studying psi phenomena invariably involves extracting a signal from a lot of noise: the only credible way to do that is scientifically. But for many researchers, those disconcerting or luminous moments of utter uncanniness in our own personal experience sustain our interest, year after year. The effects aren't so much in question as the images and the way we imagine them.


Fodor, Jerry. Psychosemantics. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1987.

Leder, Drew (1995) "Spooky Actions at a Distance": Physics, Psi, and Distant Healing, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5 : 923 -930

Schlitz, Marilyn and Braud, William (1997). "Distance intentionality and healing", Alternative Therapies, Vol. 3, No. 6.

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