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Chapter 3: Influences

Max had always read widely on the many subjects that interested him such as meditation, yoga, zen, and research into human physiology and psychology.   A classic Chinese Zen text with which he was familiar is The Ox and the Herdsman, ostensibly a story about how the herdsman searches for and finds his ox. He begins the search, finds traces of the ox and then catches it.  Then begins the problem of taming it until at last he can return to his home on it.  The ox is a symbol of his own mind - the story is how the herdsman discovers his true nature. (ref 3-1) .

Western knowledge of the workings of the brain began in the 18th century. Galvani concluded in 1791 that nerves contained “some intrinsic form of electricity”. Nearly 100 years later, in 1875, an English physician, Richard Caton, was able to measure electrical currents travelling in different directions on the exposed surface of the brain. Some of these currents were caused, he found, by stimulation of the retina of the eye. His apparatus was effectively the first electroencephalograph (EEG machine).  A Russian, Danilevsky, noted in the same decade that the brain had its own spontaneous activity that was apparently independent of stimulation.

The first recording of EEG activity on the outside of the head was achieved by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger in 1925, followed three years later by his discovery of alpha rhythm activity using electrodes attached to the scalp. Berger proposed that certain EEG frequencies could allow telepathic phenomena. Though this belief is not mentioned in EEG texts, Max may have been aware of it as he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research.

In the 1950s Max was reading some of the classic findings such as W Grey Walter’s The Living Brain (ref 3-2), which described his investigations into personality and how humans process learning and memory.  Grey Walter’s work in the Department of Physiology at Burden Neurological Institute, in Bristol - which was based on Berger’s findings - was the foremost brain research in the world at the time it was published in 1953, and foreshadowed much modern research.   The Burden, supported for many years by grants from American foundations, carried out extensive investigations into brain disorders such as psychiatric illness and epilepsy for a group of Bristol hospitals that also referred patients for treatment that included brain operations.

Grey Walter joined the institute when it opened in 1939 under its first director, the neurologist Professor Frederick Golla, and was head of its physiological research unit for 35 years. From the start Grey Walter began improving the rather crude EEG machines then available to record the brain rhythms. Even so, his first machines recorded on to a smoked metal drum, like an early phonograph.

What interested Max particularly was Grey Walter’s work in locating alpha rhythms in the brain, and his endeavours to discover any possible meaning empirically. Grey Walter, who was Anglo-American and a Cambridge graduate in natural sciences, had become fascinated by the phenomenon of these rhythms even before joining the institute.  In 1938 while working in the central pathological laboratory of the London County Council mental hospitals, he had found that alpha activity in the occipital regions of each brain hemisphere was symmetrical, and “what is most peculiar, and fascinating, the rhythms . . . were exactly in phase and vary in amplitude together.” His attempts to explain the possible meaning of such discoveries took him beyond science into poetry. The captions to many of his diagrams of brain rhythms showed his wide-ranging search: “But the lake must be perfectly calm; homeostasis frees the brain from menial tasks”, “Always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one”, “Strange patterns, and new significance emerged”, “Are we then at the mercy of these theta rhythms?” “These rhythms are the warden of brain functions”.

Max and Grey Walter, who met once during the 1960s, had much in common.  Both had a charismatic air and directness of manner that could be disarming; both were inclined to take an unorthodox approach when solving problems; and each published a large output of papers.

Another influential book was Flanders Dunbar’s Emotions and Bodily Changes (ref 3-3), a detailed psychosomatic study of the bodily systems first published in 1935, a period when the researches of Freud, Jung and Groddeck were becoming absorbed into thinking about the mind-body relationship.  Max quoted Groddeck: “A man whose resistance - or wish-fulfilment -takes the form of a fractured bone is not to be analysed, but a patient whose fracture will not heal is to be analysed”.

Richard Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness (ref 3-4) mapped qualities in the lives of famous people who were extraordinary by normal standards was often quoted by Max.  Bucke, writing at the turn of the 20th century, took as examples figures such as Swedenborg, Dante, Francis Bacon, William Blake and Walt Whitman.

Max also was very interested in Abraham Maslow’s ideas of self-actualisation described in Towards a Psychology of Being, which posited that we make the most of our potential through having a meaningful vocation in life where the division between work and play is transcended. Similarly, he found Carl Rogers’ ideas on the fully-functioning individual, expressed in On Becoming a Person, ran parallel with his own.  William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience had appeared, based on James’s lectures at the turn of the century.  These people demonstrated a way of being in the world which Max  later called The Awakened Mind.

Those who influenced Max most were people who related their knowledge to an overview of life as found in Eastern texts on yoga, which are presented in a very scientific way: try this and you can expect this result; knowledge which had been tried and found true over very many generations. 

This period in the 1960s and 1970s when Max was developing his theories was a very exciting because others, while they did not influence Max, were thinking along similar lines. There was a flowering of ideas, research and theories on the workings of the human mind and the mind-body relationship. For example, Hans Selye in The Stress of Life had claimed stress could cause mental and physical illness, though his work was flawed because it was based on an artificial situation.  The animals were confined in cages so that they could be studied by scientists to examine the effect of stress but this denied them the chance they might have had, in their natural surroundings, to discover a creative solution to this stress.

In 1971, Claudio Naranjo and Robert Ornstein had published On The Psychology of Meditation.  Max often used passages from The Penguin Krishnamurti Reader, which appeared in 1970, and also from Psychosynthesis, the writings of Roberto Assagioli, published in 1965, for the sessions in his London classes on biofeedback and altered states.

A key book of the time was Marilyn Ferguson’s The Brain Revolution, published in 1973, which W Grey Walter praised. Subtitled The Frontiers of Mind Research, it provided a new vista on many important discoveries of this century.   In 1976 Ferguson began the fortnightly Brain Mind bulletin from California, which brought together in one regular publication, reports and book reviews from such people as Naranjo, Isthak Bentov, Dr Barbara Brown, Ilya Prigone and Kenneth Pelletier, research which otherwise would have been widely scattered in the learned journals or not published at all.  Some of Max’s research appeared in the bulletin in 1977.  He was encouraged that others were pursuing much the same quest from their own perspectives.

An important influence on Max’s ideas came about by accident. He had joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1963, became a member of its council in 1969, and honorary secretary from 1973 to 1975. As the title suggests, it was not a paid post but because it coincided with his leaving Smiths Industries and the beginning of earning a living from his own teaching, he was pleased to accept.  Among the advantages, it gave him many useful contacts and easy access to old documents in the society's library.

One day the librarian was having a clear out.  Max spotted one book in the rubbish bin with the interesting title The Development of the Psychedelic Individual by John Curtis Gowan (ref 3-5). The librarian had probably reacted to the word “psychedelic”; remember this was the Sixties - the traditionalists in the society maybe thought that it was about drug orgies.   They could not have known that Gowan was a very erudite, almost Victorian, professor at California State University who used the word correctly to mean “mind-revealing” or “mind-manifesting”.  The book’s subtitle, A Psychological Analysis of the Psychedelic State and its Attendant Psychic Powers, tells us more.   This book had a great influence on Max for here was a Western collection and discussion of the same marvellous and sometimes incredible stories that are found in the East and considered to be a basic facet of existence; stories that in the West are usually regarded, if they cannot be explained by the intellect, as fantasy or illusion. 

When Max began teaching biofeedback and altered states of consciousness in 1973, he had to be very careful how he presented his material because the average person was not yet ready for the leap into self-awareness and the attendant questioning of dogma; even yoga was a word which you did not use in polite company. Of course there were many others around who were on a similar quest but you did not declare yourself unless you were fairly sure that your listener was of similar persuasion.

So Gowan was a shining bright Western light on those stories of mind-manifestation that are usually dismissed as illusion. He collected many thousands of reports that together make a fascinating body of evidence for phenomena which are beyond explanation at the material level.

Of course, many such reports are likely to be pure fabrication; stories of little green men appearing from a space ship are rejected by Gowan not because they are little and green but because it is extremely unlikely that beings from another planet could have our physiology. Gowan brought a scholarly awakened mind to these reports, and the ones he collected constitute impressive evidence for psychic phenomena appearing in the world around us. A few quotations from the book illustrate his breadth of interest:

 The cognising of experience by the human mind functions to arrange, organise and select that experience so as to discover meaning in it. The discovery of meaning results in the interior benefit of increased mental health and in the exterior benefit of increased control of milieu. Psychedelic function before one has gained internal integrity, results at the best in an arid wandering in the world of spirits, and at the worst in psychological chaos and loss of control of one's mind and body.

Everyday concepts of firmness, hardness, weight and form, which give the material universe a certain comforting quality, are seen in the light of modern physics to be illusions of perception.

The 300-year experiment, by which Western man attempted to achieve absolute certainty by barring from the real world the non-objective facts of subjective experience, has not worked.


If scientific theories have proved insufficient to explain the universe, anthropomorphic religious doctrines have proved equally unsatisfactory. The inner world of man does not need to be buttressed by sectarianism but is a self-validating experience which exists in its own right.


Psychedelia (mind expansion) is a developmental stage and implies experience in the psychic world. It is necessary to investigate that world in as scientific a manner as possible.


Psychedelia is a stage on the road to self-actualisation and partakes of some of the “powers” and “glories” of that quest. 


In the preface Gowan writes that his book is for the 21st century. His mission is to bring psychology back to its true meaning - the science of the soul.  He continued his calling with further studies: Operations of Increasing Order, which was rather Buddhist in nature; Trance, Art and Creativity and, finally, a book of stories written in the manner of traditional teaching stories, called Enveloped in Glory.

I was fortunate to meet Gowan when he made a visit to England. He and Max seemed to have come from the same mould. So a book which was found in the rubbish bin became almost a bible to Max and had a profound effect on his thinking; its manifestation at the appropriate moment could be taken as an example of psychedelia and synchronicity.



 3-1.  The Ox and his Herdsman. Translated by MH Trevor.  Hokuseido Press 1969.

3-2.  The Living Brain. W Grey Walter.  Duckworth and Co   1953.

3-3. Emotions and Bodily Changes: A Survey of Literature on Psychosomatic Interrelationships. Flanders Dunbar. Columbia  University Press, New York 1935.

3-4.  Cosmic Consciousness. Richard Bucke MD. University Books 1961.

3-5.  The Development of the Psychedelic Individual. John Curtis Gowan. Privately published.  Available from his son John Gowan, 472 Central Chapel Road, Brooktondale N.Y 14817 USA.