Green's parents were both primary school teachers, who together authored a series of geography textbooks which became known as The Green Geographies.
She was educated first at the Ursuline Convent in Ilford, and later at the Woodford High School for Girls, a state school. In a book, Letters from Exile, she compared these two schools and made conclusions that preferred parentally financed to state education. She won the Senior Open Scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford aged 17.
In 1960 she was awarded a B.Litt. degree from Oxford University's faculty of Literae Humaniores (Philosophy), for a thesis, supervised by H. H. Price, entitled An Enquiry into Some States of Consciousness and their Physiological Foundation.
In 1961 Green founded the Institute of Psychophysical Research, to research areas of philosophy, psychology and theoretical physics. Its main benefactor, from 1963 to 1970, was Cecil Harmsworth King, then Chairman of the IPC group, which owned the Daily Mirror.
Green's basic philosophical position may be described as one of radical scepticism, based on a perception of what she calls 'the total uncertainty'. This perception leads her to agnostic positions, not just on traditional philosophical issues such as the nature of physical causation, but also on current social arrangements, such as state education and the monopolistic power of the medical profession, of both of which she is a relentless critic. Green writes in Letters from Exile and elsewhere of the damage which she believes can be done to exceptional children by holding back, rather than pushing, a topic which she regards as subject to extreme misrepresentation among current educational theorists.
There are also strong hereditarian and anti-feminist elements in her thinking. The former element may have been part of the reason she received support from the psychologist, the late Professor Hans Eysenck, who for a number of years was Director of the Institute of Psychophysical Research which Green founded.
Reinforcing the impression of someone out of sympathy with the modern Zeitgeist is Green's interest in the concepts of royalty and aristocracy. This interest appears to relate, not to their political significance, but to their symbolic power as representing certain ideals of responsibility and self-reliance. In several of her books Green develops a concept of ‘centralisation’, which is far removed from the ‘Californian’ concept of ‘centredness’, and has more to do with a heroic reaction to the perception that the human condition is intolerable, and that single-mindedness and urgency are the only appropriate responses.
To the extent that a conventional political position can be inferred from Green’s writings it would appear to be one of extreme libertarianism, and in fact a pamphlet of Green's on education was published in the 1990s by the Libertarian Alliance.
Green's most widely read philosophical book is probably The Human Evasion, which has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, and Russian. Its tone is somewhat different from Green's other books, being a curious combination of the oracular and the humorous. It consists almost entirely of a destructive analysis of twentieth century thinkers, from Wittgenstein to Tillich, but at the same time it seems to have a positive sub-text of its own, which is never made explicit.
On questions of ethics, Green proposes a distinction between tribal and territorial morality. The latter is largely negative and proscriptive: it defines a person’s territory, which is not to be invaded, stolen or damaged, such as his or her property, dependants and family. Outside this defined area territorial morality is permissive, leaving the individual free to have whatever wealth, opinions or behavioural habits that do not harm others.
Tribal morality, by contrast, Green characterises as prescriptive, imposing the norms of a group on the individual. Whereas territorial morality attempts to set up rigid, universal, abstract principles (such as Kant's categorical imperative), tribal morality is contingent, culturally determined, and 'flexible'.
Green links the rise of territorial morality to the development of the concept of private property, and eventually of market capitalism, including the primacy of contract over status. Her evident preference for territorial morality can be related to the centrality of the existential uncertainty in her thinking: under territorial morality it is prohibited to do good to someone against their will because it is impossible for another individual to know with certainty what is in that individual’s best interests.
One of Green’s most distinctive contributions is to the form of the aphorism or epigram. Ten of her aphorisms were included in the Penguin Dictionary of Epigrams – a relatively high number for a living author, perhaps indicating that Green is better appreciated by literary people than by professional philosophers. The aphorism, with its tendency to paradox and extreme compression, seems to be particularly suited to Green’s confrontational mode of thought. Some of her ‘anti-feminist’ aphorisms have the power to shock even after long familiarity; for example: ‘If you think of women as human, they are exasperating on account of their incredible feebleness; of course, it’s all right if you don’t think of them as human at all.’
Green’s empirical work, some of it undertaken in collaboration with an Oxford psychologist, Charles McCreery, has focussed mainly on hallucinatory experiences in ostensibly normal people.
In 1968 Green published Lucid Dreams, a study of dreams in which the subject is aware that he or she is asleep and dreaming. The possibility of conscious insight during dreams had previously been treated with scepticism by some philosophers and psychologists. However, Green collated both previously published first-hand accounts and the results of longitudinal studies of four subjects of her own. She predicted that lucid dreams would be found to be correlated with the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, a prediction which was subsequently confirmed by experiment.
Green also speculated that it might be possible to set up a rudimentary two-way signalling system between the lucid dreamer and a waking observer, a possibility which was subsequently realised, independently of each other, by researchers in two different laboratories.
In 1968 Green published an analysis of 400 first-hand accounts of out-of-body experiences. This represented the first attempt to provide a taxonomy of such experiences, viewed simply as anomalous perceptual experiences, or hallucinations.
In 1975 Green and McCreery published a similar taxonomy of 'apparitions', or hallucinations in which the viewpoint of the subject was not ostensibly displaced, based on a collection of 1500 first-hand accounts.
Green has put forward the idea that lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences and apparitional experiences have something in common, namely that in all three types of case the subject's field of perception is entirely replaced by a hallucinatory one. In the first two types of case this is self-evident from the nature of the experience, but in the case of apparitional experiences in the waking state the idea is far from obvious. The hypothesis, and the evidence and arguments for it, were first put forward in her book Apparitions, and later developed in her book Lucid Dreaming, the Paradox of Consciousness during Sleep, both of which she co-authored with Charles McCreery.
This preoccupation with the extent of the hallucinatory element in various anomalous perceptual experiences is an indication that for Green the main interest of all these experiences is in the light they shed on normal perception, and on our theories of such perception, both philosophical and psychological. Prior to Green’s work these various hallucinatory phenomena had been of interest only to parapsychologists, who had studied them with a view to seeing, either whether they provided evidence for extra-sensory perception, or whether they shed light on the question of whether human beings could be said to survive death.
Despite Green's work, this latter, survival issue, rather than questions about the nature of perception, has remained the main focus of public interest in out-of-body experiences due to the popularisation of the concept of the near-death experience. In reality it appears that only a minority of out-of-body experiences occur in states which could be called near death.
In 1995 Celia Green was involved in the release of a CD entitled Lucid Dreams 0096, narrated by Green for the label Em:t. Earlier Green had contributed a nine-minute track to a compilation CD put out by the same recording label. The track was entitled ‘In the Extreme’ and consisted of readings by the author from her books, The Human Evasion, and Advice to Clever Children.
- Lucid Dreams (1968)
- Out-of-the-body Experiences (1968)
- The Human Evasion (1969)
- The Decline and Fall of Science (1976)
- Advice to Clever Children (1981)
- The Lost Cause: Causation and the Mind-Body Problem (2003)
- Letters from Exile: Observations on a Culture in Decline (2004)
with Charles McCreery:
- Apparitions (1975)
- Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep (1994)
Selected papers by Green
'Waking dreams and other metachoric experiences', Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa, 15, 1990, pp. 123–128.
'Are mental events preceded by their physical causes?' (with Grant Gillett), Philosophical Psychology, 8, 1995, pp. 333–340.
'Freedom and the exceptional child', Educational Notes, No. 26, Libertarian Alliance, 1993. Available as an Online PDF
‘Hindrances to the progress of medical and scientific research', in Medical Science and the Advancement of World Health, ed. R. Lanza, Praeger, New York, 1985.
References and notes
- The Oxford Times, 8 September 1989, Obituary: Mr William Green, Headmaster and author.
- Green, C., Letters from Exile, Observations on a Culture in Decline. Oxford: Oxford Forum, 2004.
- Green, C., An Enquiry into Some States of Consciousness and their Physiological Foundation, B. Litt thesis, University of Oxford, 1960.
- Green, C., Causation and the Mind-Body Problem, D. Phil thesis, University of Oxford, 1996.
- Staff page of the Department of Philosophy, Liverpool University.
- Green, C., The Human Evasion. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1969, p.12.
- Green, C., The Lost Cause, Causation and the Mind-Body Problem. Oxford: Oxford Forum, 2003.
- Green, C., Letters from Exile, Observations on a Culture in Decline. Oxford: Oxford Forum, 2004, passim.
- Cf.Green, C., Advice to Clever Children. Oxford: Institute of Psychophysical Research, 1981, Ch.29.
- Green, C.,'Freedom and the exceptional child', Educational Notes, No. 26, Libertarian Alliance, 1993.
- Green, C., Vlucht en de Medemens. Meppel: Boom. 1970.
- Green, C., Die Flucht ins Humane. Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Verlag. 1974.
- Green, C., L'Evasione dell' Umanita. Roma: Ubaldini Editore. 1970.
- The Human Evasion in Russian.
- Green, C., Letters from Exile, Observations on a Culture in Decline. Oxford: Oxford Forum, 2004, pp. 3–51.
- M.J. Cohen, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Epigrams, London: Penguin Books, 2001.
- Green, C., The Decline and Fall of Science. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1976, p. 170.
- Green, C., Lucid Dreams, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
- Cf. Malcolm, N., Dreaming. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959, pp.48–50.
- See, e.g., Hartmann, E., ‘Dreams and other hallucinations: an approach to the underlying mechanism,’ in Siegal, R.K. and West, L.J., eds., Hallucinations. New York: Wiley, 1975.
- Laberge, S., Nagel, L., Taylor, W., Dement, W.C. & Narcone, V. (1981): 'Psychophysiological correlates of the initiation of lucid dreaming.' Sleep Research, 10, 149.
- Ogilvie, R., Hunt, H., Kushniruk, A. & Newman, J. (1983): 'Lucid dreams and the arousal continuum.' Sleep Research, 12, 182.
- Fenwick, P., Schatzmann, M., Worsley, A., Adams, J., Stone, S., & Backer, A., (1984): 'Lucid dreaming: correspondence between dreamed and actual events in one subject during REM sleep.' Biological Psychology, 18, 243–252.
- Hearne, K.M.T. (1978). Lucid dreams: an electrophysiological and psychological study. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.
- Laberge, S., Nagel, Dement, W.C. & Narcone, V. (1981): 'Lucid dreaming verified by volitional communication during REM sleep'. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 52, 727–732.
- Green, C., Out-of-the-body Experiences, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
- Green, C., and McCreery, C., Apparitions, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975.
- Green, C., and McCreery, C., Lucid Dreaming, the Paradox of Consciousness during Sleep, London: Routledge, 1994.
- See, for example, Gurney, E., Myers, F.W.H. and Podmore, F.. Phantasms of the Living, Vols. I and II. London: Trubner and Co.,1886.
- Cf., McCreery, C., and Claridge, G.,'A study of hallucination in normal subjects – I. Self-report data'. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 739–747, 1996.
- Lucid Dreams 0096. Nottingham: Em:t, 1995. 5025989 960027.
- Em:t 2295. Nottingham: Em:t, 1995. 5025989 229520.
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