Qualitative Analysis Of First-Person Accounts Of Noetic Experiences

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Helané Wahbeh,1 Nina Fry,1 Paolo Speirn,1 Emmal Ancel,1 Erica Niebauer1 
1. Research Department, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California, USA 

Introduction: The term “Noetic” comes from the Greek word noēsis/noētikos that means inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding. William James, American philosopher and psychologist, defined noetic experiences as “states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time” (James 1985, 380–381). Strong cultural taboos exist about sharing these experiences. Thus, many may not feel comfortable transparently discussing or researching these topics, despite growing evidence that these experiences may be real. The study’s objective was to qualitatively evaluate first-hand accounts of noetic experiences.  

Methods: Participants completed an online survey collected demographic data and four open-ended questions about noetic experiences: 1) Please describe in as much detail as possible how you access information not limited to our conventional notions of time and space; 2) Please describe in as much detail as possible how you access energy not limited to our conventional notions of time and space; 3) Please describe in as much detail as possible how you express information not limited to our conventional notions of time and space; 4) Please describe in as much detail as possible how you express energy not limited to our conventional notions of time and space. The questions were separated into information and energy because of anecdotal expressions that people perceive noetic experiences as information and energy separately. Thematic analysis was used to characterize the data by grouping repeated semantic code patterns into meaningful categories/themes, as Braun and Clarke described (Braun and Clarke 2006) using six steps: familiarization, coding, generating themes, reviewing themes, defining and naming themes, and reporting. Thematic analysis was chosen because it can provide a straightforward yet rich description of participants’ beliefs and experiences. The four questions were meant to elicit more comprehensive and detailed responses from the participants (rather than evaluate separate themes for each question), and thus, the responses were considered as a whole for the thematic analysis. 

Results: 521 English-speaking adults from around the world completed the survey. Patterns emerged when we examined the dataset as a whole and the number of participants mentioning each concept. The top ten codes were: knowing the future (219); expressing to or sharing with others (197); impacts decision making (196); intuition/“just knowing” (184); meditation/hypnosis (183); inner visions (171); setting intentions/getting into the “state” (157); healing others (152); writing for self (151); and inner voice (151). There were five main themes and multiple subthemes identified in the data: 1. Ways of Engagement (intentional and unintentional); 2. Ways of Knowing (intuitive, embodied, sensorial, emotional, direct); 3. Types of Information; 4. Ways of Affecting (healing, decision-making, influencing others, influencing systems, objects, the environment; and 5. Ways of Expressing. Subthemes were also identified.  

Discussion: This study’s findings support the idea that noetic experiences are widespread and experienced in specific and variable ways. The results also align with previous qualitative research on exceptional experiences. Several limitations of this study should be considered, such as subjective reporting, difficulty ascertaining causality, errors in memory recall, and limits in generalizability based on a specific sample pool. Regardless, the results brought great insight into people’s phenomenological experience of the noetic. Future research will include continued investigations into the nuances of these themes and also establishing standardized methods for evaluating them. Results from future studies would also then inform curricula and therapies to support people with these experiences. 

James, William. 1985. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Penguin Classics. 

Braun, V., and V. Clarke. 2006. “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3 (2): 77–101. 


Helané Wahbeh
Helané Wahbeh

Helané Wahbeh is the Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Wahbeh is clinically trained as a naturopathic physician and research trained with a Master of Clinical Research and two post-doctoral research fellowships. She has published on and spoken internationally about her studies on complementary and alternative medicine, mind-body medicine, psi, stress, and PTSD.

Qualitative Analysis Of First-Person Accounts Of Noetic Experiences


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