Natural Law deputy floats in for visit

St. Catharines Standard/November 23, 2000
By Grant Lafleche

Ashley Deans says party of meditators, yogic flyers can cure Canada's ills Armed with secrets, allegedly born in antiquity and possessing earth-shaking power rivalling the impact of Galileo's telescope, Ashley Deans believes he has the cure for all that ails Canada. If only the country would listen to him.

Like the famous Renaissance man, persecuted by the Catholic Inquisition for claiming the Earth orbited the sun, Deans says his Natural Law Party labours under the criticism of fools.

"The history of science shows that when there are those with new ideas, there are those who dismiss you," Deans, the NLP deputy leader, said at a news conference in St. Catharines Wednesday. "But we have the scientifically proven technologies that work." Over time, he said, more people will accept his party's platform and will adopt its policies.

Deans said eventually, once the transcendental meditators and yogic flyers of the NLP banish sickness, crime and conflict, the party will be looked upon as a candle of truth in an era of ignorance, just like Galileo. However, critics say the NLP has misappropriated Galileo's legacy.

"Look, they laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Edison, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown, and the NLP is Bozo the Clown," said James Randi, a Florida-based skeptic. "Galileo had the saving grace of being right."

Randi, whose James Randi Foundation works to debunk claims of the supernatural and pseudo-science, called the NLP a "viciously ambitious organization," with nothing to offer voters.

The problem, said Randi, a friend of the late magician and prominent NLP member Doug Henning, is the party's platform exists in a "fairy world, like Sesame Street. "It's all so airy and fuzzy. What is natural law? They can't say. It's a buzzword." Most voters don't take the NLP seriously. The party, living on the fringe, has never collected more than a few hundred votes in a given riding and has never held a federal seat.

With the nation's attention focused on the front-running Liberals and Canadian Alliance, there is little chance that will change this time around. That isn't going to stop Deans from trying, though. "I'm seeing a change out there as I travel across the country," Deans said at the Ramada Parkway Inn on Ontario Street. "More people are saying to me, 'Your policies make sense.' We are the real party of change."

Deans' confidence stems from what he calls the "scientifically proven technologies" of transcendental meditation and yogic flying -- the latter activity consisting of bouncing around on your rear with your legs crossed. "We are bringing these most ancient of technologies forward to create heaven on earth here in Canada," he said.

What does all this hopping about do? Deans said it connects everyone to the collective consciousness of the natural law governing the universe. That may sound like new-age gobbledegook distilled from Obi-Wan Kenobi's description of the force in Star Wars, but Deans is completely serious.

"The natural law is an energy that is everywhere, and our technology (yogic flying) shows you how to get at that energy," Deans said. In short, if you get enough yogic flyers bouncing about together at the same time, everyone will feel better, he said.

Deans said there are more than 600 scientific studies backing up NLP claims that yogic flying reduces crime, disease and stress while improving the economy in areas where it is practised. Critics, however, say Deans is stretching the truth.

"Those are pretty bold claims. There are maybe half a dozen studies in reputable journals. The rest are published within the (NLP) community," said Barry Markovsky, a University of Iowa sociologist who has examined NLP scientific claims. "There are serious problems with the way their evidence is presented."

Markovsky said the research methods used by those studying yogic flying and meditation are elaborate and, on the surface, quite rigorous. "There may be some benefit for the individual who is meditating. They probably have reduced levels of stress and so on," he said. But the evidence suggesting yogic flying affects society as a whole is riddled with problems and is inconclusive, Markovsky said.

The most fundamental problem is the statistical methods used -- essentially survey methods rather than controlled laboratory experiments -- are open to manipulation. Moreover, the researchers don't apply Occam's Razor, one of the most basic scientific maxims.

Everything being equal, Occam's Razor says, the most commonplace explanation tends to be the correct one. "If you observe, say, a reduction in crime in an area where you practise meditation, you have to look at other possible explanations," Markovsky said. "They don't do that. These social indicators like crime rates are very sensitive to many factors."

In effect, you cannot isolate yogic flying as causing any changes in a given environment, he said. Deans said sociologists like Markovsky can't criticize the studies because "he probably doesn't have the mathematical skills to understand them. "Sociologists become sociologists because it is a soft discipline," he said.

Pajama-clad flyers aren't the only aspect of the party's platform that appears to have stepped through the looking glass. For example, the NLP maintains parts of the human brain have a one-on-one relationship with the other planets in the solar system. Understanding these astrological connections is the key to lasting health, they say.

Critics like Randi say the group is more religious movement than political party. Deans insists NLP is not a religion or a spiritual movement. In fact, he said, practitioners of many faiths have joined the party.

"We are not part of the transcendental meditation group," he said. Nevertheless, there are discernible links between the spiritual transcendental meditation movement and the NLP.

The NLP is, in effect, the political wing of the movement founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru the Beatles once followed to India. The Maharishi founded the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa to teach the meditation and its related philosophies. It was at this school that the NLP was born, said Markovsky.

Deans, who has a PhD in experimental space science from York University, teaches at the Maharishi school, home to about 1,000 students. Deans says the NLP platform is based on the Maharishi's teachings.

"We recommend these programs because they are proven to work," he says, while maintaining the Maharishi does not control the party. "In any case, transcendental meditation isn't a religion ... it's a mental technique."

While the party has yet to become a political force in any of the 80 countries where it exists, Randi says a close eye should be kept on it. "I don't think you need to worry about them from a political point of view, but from a philosophical standpoint. They are becoming more and more like the Church of Scientology every day.

"Look what happened there -- they started out on the fringes and became a powerful organization," he said. Deans said because Randi is not a scientist, he is no position to criticize the NLP. "He is ignoring 600 studies. He is a nice guy, entitled to his opinion, but he doesn't understand the science behind it," he said.

As for why, if the NLP methods are so well-supported scientifically, the scientific community hasn't picked up on them, Deans said: "Look what they did to Galileo."

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