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Wren-Lewis, Professor John

Category: Scientist


John Wren-Lewis (1923 – 25 June 2006) was a British-born scientist and university lecturer, who taught at universities in Great Britain and the United States of America.

He graduated in applied mathematics from the Imperial College of Science, University of London and in the 1950s and 1960s, while working as an industrial research executive with Imperial Chemical Industries, became known for his publications as scholar, author and lecturer on topics of science, psychology, and education.  After some years, John rose via the management of the chemical giant’s research laboratory, to the post of Assistant Research Controller.


During this time, he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and of the Royal Society of Arts, and served as Chairman of the International Committee on Morphological Crystallography and External Examiner in Technological Forecasting to the University of Loughborough.

He was appointed Distinguished Visiting Lecturer to the University of Leeds, Gunning Lecturer at Edinburgh University, and Stephenson Lecturer at the University of Stirling. Wren-Lewis presented memorial lectures for Bishop George Bell and Dean Vaughan, and was first H. G. Wells Memorial Lecturer at Imperial College.


A developing interest in the death of religion


John developed a strong interest in the problems of the relationship between science and religion, which led to frequent broadcasts and to over 300 articles in leading periodicals, as well as contributions to numerous books.

In his initial years, he played a leading part in the so-called "Death of God" movement in Britain, preferring to call himself a ‘humanist’.  From 1970 he was president of the British Association for Humanistic Psychology, which later became the European Association for Humanistic Psychology.  Books written in those days or to which he contributed include:

  • Faith, Fact and Fantasy  - C.F.D. Moule, John Wren-Lewis, D.A. Pond, P.R. Baelz [1966]
  • Psychoanalysis Observed  - with Charles Rycroft, Geoffrey Gorer, Anthony Storr, John Wren-Lewis, Peter Lomas. Edited with an introduction by Charles Rycroft, [1967]
  • What shall we tell the children? [1971] - John Wren-Lewis

And we find articles such as these:

  • The Passing of Puritanism I, Critical Quarterly, vol. 5 no. 4, December 1963
  • Faith in the technological future, Futures, vol. 2 no. 3, September 1970, pp. 258–262
  • Resistance to the study of the paranormal, Journal of Humanistic Psychology vol. 14 no. 2, Springer 1974

In the early 1970s he visited the United States, inaugurating the "Technology and Society" lecture/seminars at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970. In 1971 he became a Regents Lecturer in the University of California system at Santa Barbara.

John moved to the United States in 1972 with his life partner, the dream psychologist Dr Ann Faraday. Ann Faraday is a British-born psychologist, who conducted an experimental study of dreams for her PhD thesis at University College, London. 


She was a pioneer of the Human Potential Movement and the Association for Humanistic Psychology in Great Britain.  She was at this time the author of books on dream interpretation.

In 1972 John joined New College of Florida in Sarasota as visiting professor of religious studies and member of the faculty until 1974. Faraday and Lewis also worked with the Esalen Institute from 1976.

The event that changed his life

John and Ann left the US in the early 80s to undertake three years of extended travel to India and the Far East.  They spent 1982 together in Malaysia.

Ann was interested in the research of Kilton Stewart, who had visited the tribes of this area and seen great potential in what he had called "Senoi dream theory".  Similarly Patricia Garfield referred to techniques of the Senoi when describing her work on dreams.  The Senoi (also spelled Sengoi and Sng'oi) are a group of Malaysian peoples classified among the Orang Asli, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia.  Earlier, in her publications relating to dream theory, Ann Faraday had cited these two researchers and wanted to see for herself what the Senoi did. 

The stay with the Senoi proved extremely interesting, Faraday and Wren-Lewis found no evidence of the so called “dream control education” described in the research papers.  From what one can gather, this rather shook his belief in science as the fount of all truth, as he started to realise that once a myth such as that created by Kilton Stewart is created, it tends to get cited and spread without the original research ever being questioned or further investigated.  And he realised that Science had become a religion, it was certainly a belief system - with people repeating the myths others had created with no evidence of their own to back their conclusions.  A house of cards, castles built on sand.  Thus he was somewhat primed for what followed.


In 1983, when he was 60 years old and travelling with Ann, [whose quick thinking largely saved him] John was nearly poisoned to death in Thailand by a 'poisoned candy', and underwent a near-death experience which ‘profoundly changed his world view’, and the course of his life.  Having been a convinced sceptic up to that point, he completely changed his mind.


It could not have happened to a less likely guy.  I had read little then about NDEs, having been travelling in remote Third World regions for nearly a decade, and about what I had heard I was extremely sceptical – but that was nothing to my scepticism towards all things mystical, which I saw as a kind of neurosis afflicting religion.
When I was rescued from death by poisoning in Thailand after many hours of uncertainty about my survival on the doctors’ part my memory was only of a kind of timeless blackness that was anything but blankness – an intensity of peaceful consciousness that made me totally re-evaluate Henry Vaughan’s paradoxical line,
‘There is in God, some say, a deep but dazzling Darkness’

Strictly speaking , John is describing here a rebirth experience, but he was near death too, so why quibble.

The most important thing about it was that I did not leave the experience behind when I was brought round, but have retained it as a kind of continuous background to my entire consciousness ever since – and as a result, the anxieties that overshadowed my life for nearly sixty years, including fear of death, now seem absurd because the intensity of life in each moment is such that my concern about the future, in this life or beyond, is completely relativized…… the timeless depth of what I have come to call eternity-consciousness brings a sense of unity with all beings past and present every bit as real – indeed far more real than the relationships which characterised life for me during my previous 59 odd years.

The after effects of the near-death experience

The initial experience lacked almost all the dramatic features that have attracted popular attention in the many accounts of "near-death experiences" appearing over the past decade such as "out-of-body" travel, passage through a tunnel, review of earlier life, or encounter with apparently supernatural entities. It was more in the nature of a dissolution into a Nirvanic or void-state of undifferentiated aliveness, but it produced a major and apparently permanent awareness-shift far beyond the emotional reorientations that are commonly reported to follow close encounters with death. The change seems to correspond closely with traditional religious descriptions of mystical "awakening" to experiential unity with the essence of all being, from which viewpoint the mystical perception of reality is seen as simple normal consciousness rather than an "altered state," while so-called ordinary consciousness is recognized to be a clouded condition wherein awareness has become bogged down in an illusion of separate selfhood confronting an alien environment. This change of viewpoint represents a complete antithesis to the author's prior religious background, which involved total skepticism of all mystical claims and of near-death experience reports.



In 1984 the couple moved to Australia. He later said of himself that at that moment he was "still reeling" from his experience of a year before.  In Australia, he became honorary associate at the Faculty of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney.

From this point on John both wrote and taught about the meaning of mysticism and a broad spectrum of spiritual teachings. John’s entire reading emphasis changed and where, in earlier publications he had cited scientific papers, in his new papers his list of references included:

He also completely demolished any suggestions that NDEs were the product of drugs or illusory.


Individual descriptions vary enormously, and many experiences are simply indescribable, but there is an almost universal insistence on ‘something rich and strange’ like the opening-up of a new dimension in consciousness, which subsequently gives the experiencer a hitherto undreamed of level of confidence, equilibrium and creative energy in life – all the symptoms in fact, of sanity rather than craziness.  Anxiety in general, and fear of death in particular, have somehow been dramatically reduced or even abolished by the experience, along with such everyday manifestations of anxiety as boredom, restlessness, competitiveness, acquisitiveness and aggression.  No fantasy due to brain aberration has ever been known to produce lasting effects like these, nor has any drug – and NDEs quite often occur when no drug is involved.

But what is especially interesting is his perspective on how NDEs ought to be both treated and studied.  He started to look on them as exceptionally important  from a psychological point of view, that through them a more rounded, happy, creative and contented individual results. 


Given that what he experienced was more correctly a rebirth experience occasioned by poisoning, he was rediscovering something ancient and known - rebirth experiences were always used for this purpose in mystical systems.  Once a person had been judged to be capable of handling the trauma of the rebirth experience, then it was often provoked.  Moses underwent rebirth in the pyramids as part of the Egyptian Mysteries, for example, as such one has no need to experience a near death to experience rebirth.

THE DARKNESS OF GOD: A Personal Report on Consciousness:Transformation Through an Encounter with Death by John Wren-Lewis

In the past few years, an important change of emphasis has taken place amongst near-death researchers that renders all skeptical considerations largely irrelevant. The specific content of NDEs, while undeniably interesting, tends now to be seen as secondary; primary significance is given to the unquestionable fact that a close encounter with death, whether clinically or only in a life-threatening situation, seems to produce in many cases a remarkable change of consciousness, which is worthy of study in its own right, and which, on any reasonable reckoning, is highly significant for our estimates about what kind of creature the human being is.

 Australia and death

For the remaining years of his life, John devoted himself to discovering how to help others to ‘awaken’, as he had.

He was – as most people on the true spiritual path are – wary of gurus and set paths and apparently text book described ‘methods’ that are supposed to lead to enlightenment, whether these were established religious or ‘new age’ or any other money making venture.  With no vested interest in any traditions, he was free to honestly evaluate their efficacy. He concluded that there was little or no evidence of any spiritual system offering a sure road to awakening.

One is led along the spiritual path, one doesn’t drive along it as a methodological route.  In fact the moment one says ‘I want’ one has effectively left the spiritual path, as the total reduction of all desire and ego is essential for any form of ‘progression’.  One doesn’t progress oneself, one is progressed according to one’s destiny – you reach a state conducive to the task you have in the Great Work.

This is why this site shows the activities that have indeed provoked various forms of experience, so that it is easier for people to recognise why they had the experience and also what the experience  is.  But the spiritual path we have shown is simply a series of states, with no methods on how one goes from one state to another.

John Wren-Lewis called upon all spiritual teachers to share their findings in the spirit of scientific inquiry to uncover the factors that bring about awakening. To this task, he dedicated his life until his passing in 2006.  As recorded in the Ryerson Index, he died on 25 June 2006 at Shoalhaven, New South Wales, aged 82 years.

T.S. Eliot
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.



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