Published in Journal of Society for Parapsychological Research,Vol. 59, No. 832, July 1993, pp.237-40.
C. T. K. CHARI (1909-1993)
Professor C.T.K. Chari was the most prominent among contemporary Indian philosophers who paid close attention to psi phenomena. An erudite scholar with an incisive mind, Chari published extensively on extremely diverse topics, such as logic, linguistics, information theory, mathematics, quantum physics, philosophy of mind, and, of course, psi research. His encyclopedic mind grasped highly abstruse subjects with extraordinary ease and his phenomenal memory retained everything he read or knew. Several years ago a friend in the U.S., who was amazed at the long string of references contained in all of Chari's papers, jokingly asked me if I knew how big was Chari's card cabinet that contained these references. When I met Chari I was even more amazed to note that he did not need to consult his cards. He reeled off from memory literally dozens of names of authors, titles, and sometimes even the publishers in the course of one interview I had with him. Similarly, when I attended one of his lectures I found him speak with great fluency, without any notes, again referring to at least as many people as we usually find in his published papers. Widely respected for his scholarship, simplicity and strength of character, Chari will be missed, not only by scores of his students and admirers in India but also by many others outside India. In his death parapsychology has lost one of its profound thinkers.
Cadambur Tiruvenkatachari Krishnama Chari was born on 5th June 1909 in Trivellore in South India. He studied at Madras University and received his M.A. (1932) and Ph.D. (1933) degrees in philosophy. Starting his professional career as a lecturer in philosophy at American College in Madura in 1933, Chari moved to Madras in 1940 to teach at Madras Christian College, where he served as an assistant Professor, associate professor, and professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology until his retirement. He married Mythili Lakshminarasimhan in 1949. They had one daughter, Nirmala. Chari was in good health until he died in his sleep on 5th January 1993.
While he was known primarily for his informed and analytical comments on a host of parapsychological issues, ranging from reincarnation to quantum theories of psi, Chari's early interests included field studies and empirical data collection (Chari, 1959). The results, however, were largely negative, confirming once again that the widespread anecdotal evidence for the paranormal popularized in the media does not withstand close scientific scrutiny.
Among the parapsychological phenomena, it was precognition that fascinated Chari most. His first article in a psychical research journal was on precognition (Chari, 1951). In this article he took issue with C. W. K. Mundle, who had raised the question of whether precognition could be explained by a combination of PK and non-precognitive ESP. Chari had grave misgivings about the notion that time is ordered linearly with postulated 'betweenness' among instants. "I venture to suggest," Chari wrote, "that in working out a theory of precognition, the conception of a time the instants of which are all linearly ordered may have to be abandoned" (Chari, 1951, p.510). Chari had more sympathy for Saltmarsh's concept of a specious present. He felt that spontaneous cases of the precognition type "lend support to the hypothesis that telepathic interaction occurs between 'subliminal selves' with 'extended specious presents' " (p.515).
Quantum physics was another of Chari's major interests. He dealt with the perplexities of quantum mechanics in a paper he published in The Philosophical Quarterly (Chari, 1953). His first paper in the Journal of Parapsychology dealt with quantum physics and parapsychology (Chari, 1956). In this paper Chari examined the suggestions of Pascual Jordan and Henry Margenau that quantum mechanics may provide fruitful models for understanding psi phenomena, and he concluded that quantum mechanics does not offer "much interpretative aid to parapsychology". The issues about 'time', 'precognition' and 'intervention' raised by parapsychological data, he argued, are inconsistent with any current physical formulation. Hereiterated the same view in a later article (Chari, 1972) by saying that "all attempts to crack the riddles of psychical research by relying on quantum mechanics are, for the present, premature and hazardous" (p.203).
In another paper, Chari (1978) wrote an extensive critique of Walker's quantum-mechanical theory of consciousness. In an earlier article Chari (1966) discussed the relevance of information-theoretic approaches to ESP. While noting six ways in which information theory can be a useful tool for psi research, Chari despaired at its inability to shed any light on precognition. According to him, the metaphysically noncommittal attitude of communication theory to the mind-body problem is its supreme advantage.
Chari speculated that ESP may be analogous to 'moral sense', 'sense of humor' or 'religiosity', which is extremely sensitive to psychological variables. "ESP," he wrote, "may indeed involve neurophysiological correlates, but these may not serve to explain its modus operandi. ESP may be a direct (non-inferential) knowledge of certain contemporary or non-contemporary (past or future) states in the world, attained without the operation of any sense organ or physiological mechanism" (1966,p.539).
In a 1974 paper Chari argued that the challenge of psi calls for a new physics and a new biology. He insisted that "there is no known physicalistic theory which covers, even in principle, the manifold aspects of psi" (Chari, 1974, p.l). Therefore, "instead of asking whether present-day physics can contribute to a new understanding of psi, it may be more profitable for us to ask whether psi can hint at some reinterpretation of present-day physical theory" (p.5).
Pointing out that the issues raised by parapsychological data go beyond the reductionism vs. non-reductionism debate, Chari suggests that "parapsychology has to do with problems which are more fundamental and far-reaching than the much debated 'body-mind' identity ..." (Chari, 1974, p. 10).
Chari shared Rhine's views on the question of survival. He wrote (1974, p.10):- It is fallacious to represent ESP and survival as necessarily exclusiveand rival hypotheses, even though it is true that most survival data could be comfortably accommodated by a rightly-conceived ESP functioning in the life-setting. Survival, if it is not a solipsistic dream-state, presupposes a very comprehensive ESP. It is safe to say that until explicit solutions to the more compelling problems of 'psi physics' and 'psi biology' have been spelled out, the problem of human survival cannot be posed effectively for science and philosophy, let alone solved. We need, as Rhine . . . has said with prophetic wisdom, a science of the total man.
The issues relating to the survival of human personality after death and reincarnation were of special interest to Chari. I know he had many questions about the reported cases suggestive of reincarnation. I persuaded him to write a comprehensive article detailing his ideas and concerns on research in this area. He agreed to do such an article. It is unfortunate that he passed away without giving us his final thoughts on this important subject. I believe, however, that the following sentences from his article in Wolman's Handbook of Parapsychology indicate the direction of his thinking (Chari, 1977, p.818) : Reincarnation, if it occurs on anything like a major scale, is a thinly disguised Lamarckism. The hypothesis demands that the habits, the memories, and even the scars on the bodies, which were acquired by individuals in historically earlier times, are transmitted to later generations by their 'surviving egos' being reborn in large numbers. There seems no way, either in modern molecular biology or in quantum-mechanical versions of it, of allowing reincarnating egos to influence genetic information systems directly.
Chari was a man who had much to offer. He did publish extensively and his writings will continue to inspire many of us. He would have inspired even more had he been involved in mutual dialogue and face-to-face meetings. Even though he was never too shy to speak out his mind, Chari seemed to have preferred to be a recluse. He declined numerous invitations to international conferences and visits to other countries. This, I suspect, had more to do with his reluctance to travel rather than the professed reasons of his health.
Chari stands tall among Indian intellectuals. His interests were broad. His involvement was intense. His scholarship was deep. His mind was sharp. As a person he was simple, kind, and unassuming. There are not many like him. His absence will be felt not only by his immediate family, students, and colleagues but also by numerous others in India and elsewhere who share his optimism that psi, when it "won general acceptance and attained a stature of its own, would reduce much of the older metaphysics of mankind to crude and dubious speculation conducted without adequate data"(Chari, 1974,p. 11).
Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man Durham, N.C., U.S.A.
K. RAMAKRISHNA RAO
Chari, C.T.K. (1951) A note on precognition. JSPR 36, 509-518.
Chari, C. T. K. (1953) Quantum mechanical perplexities. Philosophical Quarterly 26,177-185.
Chari, C.T.K. (1956) Quantum physics and parapsychology. JP 20, 166-183.
Chari, C. T. K. (1959) Parapsychological studies and literature in India. IJP 2, 24-36.
Chari, C.T.K. (1966) On information-theoretic approaches to ESP. IJP 8,533-553.
Chari, C. T. K. (1972) Precognition, probability, and quantum mechanics. JASPR 66,193-207.
Chari, C. T. K. (1974) The challenge of psi: new horizons of scientificresearch. JP 38, 1-15.
Chari, C. T. K. (1977) Some generalized theories and models of psi: a critical evaluation. In Wolman, B. B. (ed.) Handbook of Parapsychology, 803-822. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Chari, C. T. K. (1978) Critique of the theory of consciousness as the'hidden variable* of quantum mechanics. Journal of Indian Psychology 1, 119-129.