It might be surprising that an organization seriously dedicated to the scientific study of phenomena such as spirit, transcendence and enlightenment thrives internationally, with nearly 30,000 members in over 50 countries.
Founded by lunar astronaut Edgar Mitchell in 1973, the Institute of Noetic Sciences explores "frontiers of consciousness," attempting to establish new ways of thinking and shifting global worldviews. But this is no ethereal new age group. The immediate faculty of IONS boasts dozens of doctoral and medical degrees.
Berney Williams, the president of the Lawrence group and Kansas University professor of geography, says a broad array of people are drawn to IONS.
He notes that many attendees are "people who have had some frustration with the conventional assumptions with intellectual investigation. Many have had personal experiences that are contrary to (mainstream science)."
What IONS is attempting to do on a global scale, members try to do on a personal level, such as redefining how they think and reaching a higher level of understanding about the nature of their own consciousness and potential.
Williams says it is encouraging for members to know there are others out there who have had what - until learning of IONS - they considered abnormal experiences.
"There are varying degrees of questing among the people, but they all find it congenial watching others trying to express their views," he said.
Bob Nunley is president of the local branch of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, an organization whose mission is to reconcile and unify the fundamental theories behind arts like acupuncture, chiropractics or reiki by cross-disciplinary studies that draw on fields such as psychophysiology, psychophysics and medicine.
He also is a KU professor of geography and an active member of IONS since its founding in 1973. He has watched the group grow.
"We are primarily an organization that forms the bridge between the mystically inclined scientists and the scientifically inclined mystics," Nunley says.
The Lawrence group aims to facilitate the self-development and education of its members and learn that there are others who have experiences they cannot explain as well.
For Williams, it's easy to know whether someone will fit in with IONS.
"If they are interested in the nature of knowledge, that is what the meetings are about. If they are reflective on their own assumptions, they will find a congenial community there. If not, it would probably sound like nonsense."