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About Esalen Center for Theory & Research

The goals of the Esalen Center for Theory & Research (CTR) span a wide range of commitments, projects, and passions. One of these is the development of a new worldview that can make sense of all of this and a transformative practice that can embody it, since vision without action is lame and action without vision is blind. Under the banner of “Toward a New Worldview,” CTR seeks to nourish and support an emerging 'school' in which theory, research, and practice will co-evolve to embody our latent supernature.


Alternately known as the Big SUR Seminar and the SURvival Seminar, Sursem, now in its fourteenth year, is the longest running series ever to take place at Esalen. Spearheaded by Michael Murphy, these events have brought together neuroscientists, psychiatrists, philosophers, physicists, and historians to assess the empirical evidence for human survival of bodily death evident in such phenomena as near-death and out-of-body experiences, mystical experiences, psychical phenomena, and children who remember previous lives. 

In 2009, neuroscientist Ed Kelly and historian of psychology Emily Kelly led the group toward the production of Sursem’s groundbreaking book, Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology of the 21st Century

The Evolution of Human Nature

Throughout Esalen’s history Michael Murphy has hosted leading scholars of evolution and spiritual transformation to discuss the emerging vision of human evolution. Often described as “evolutionary panentheism,” this vision looks at how to reconcile scientific and mystical perspectives into a more encompassing vision of human possibility. It includes Jeff Kripal’s pioneering work on how the film, comic book, and television industries portray the evolutionary emergence of paranormal capacities in humans and so, in effect, advance Esalen’s own long-standing vision under the guise of entertainment and fiction

The Paranormal and Popular Culture

Evolutionary panentheism, an admitted mouthful, is not an expression that one hears much of in public culture. Nor do the stunning psychical phenomena studied by the Sursem group normally make it into official science and a standard college education. And yet this evolutionary vision and these psychical capacities are everywhere in popular culture. Indeed, they provide the very bedrock of the mythical themes that are routinely played out and explored in film, television, comic books, and science fiction. This series invited professionals from the fields of science fiction, film, and the comic book industry to explore this profound resonance between the vision of Esalen and the emerging Super-Story of American popular culture.

Chaired by the historian of religions Jeff Kripal, this series led in 2011 to Jeff’s book, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, and to an ongoing documentary film project entitled Authors of the Impossible, directed by Scott Jones.

The New Human Story

To understand our human origins and potential, people today often feel forced to choose between a narrow "creationist" story and an equally narrow "scientific" view that leaves out everything social, moral, creative and deeply meaningful in our lives and experience. But it turns out this cold, competitive view of human nature is actually scientifically out of date. The New Human Story Project gathers leading evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, primatologists, neuroscientists, developmental psychologists and others, each one holding a separate piece of this emergent narrative, to promote and integrate a new science-based vision of who we are and what destinies are within our reach. The emergence of this New Human Story has the potential to influence both science and popular culture in support of a richer, more open understanding of who we've been, who we are and what our potential future can be.

Gordon Wheeler is gathering leading evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, primatologists, developmental psychologists and others who have been re-visioning the story of human evolution to find what it tells us about human nature and human potential. Together, these disciplines hold the elements of a new, science-based narrative of who we are, and a broader vision of our potential human destiny.

Jeff Kripal hard at work for Esalen Center for Theory & Research


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