Demand the Impossible



What do you get when you take a razor-sharp mind with a state-of-the-art bullshit detector and apply it all to a sphere of inquiry most academics run in terror for their careers from?

You get Jeff Kripal's Authors of the Impossible, a book that people in the future will look back on as a pivotal text in the development of a new consensus on topics that have for too long been consigned to the fringes. Jeff wrote the definitive text on the history of Esalen (which I included as one of my decade's best) and he's also the author of the upcoming Secret Life of a Superpower, a very deep and exhaustive look at the enduring resonance of the superhero meme. (Note: Read Jeff's bio here.)

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Longtime Secret Sun readers will be stunned to see how many of the topics we've discussed here being covered in Authors of the Impossible (as well as in Secret Life). Stunned but not surprised- there is a new consensus unfolding that acknowledges the past but isn't beholden to it. That acknowledges the importance of the scientific method but recognizes its limitations in certain dilemmas. I hope that you read Authors of the Impossible and hope that it inspires you to apply a similar discipline to your own research. Discipline, rigor and most of all courage are desperately needed as the old weird becomes the New Normal.

Here's a description taken from Jeff's site. It refers to the upcoming film but covers the basic outline of the book as well:
The film profiles four extraordinary thinkers: the British psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, the American anomalist writer and humorist Charles Fort, the astronomer, computer scientist, and ufologist Jacques Vallee, and the French philosopher Bertrand Méheust. Gradually, eerily, what Kripal dubs “the fantastic narrative of Western occulture” emerges before the reader from within that strange middle realm where fact mimics fiction, where fraud mimics fact, where everything is related and nothing is as it seems. The cultural histories of telepathy, teleportation, and UFO’s, a ghostly love story, the occult dimensions of science fiction, cold war psychic espionage, galactic colonialism, poltergeist girls, consciousness as the creator of culture, and culture as the crystallization of consciousness—it is all impossible, and it all happens here.
Ultimately, Authors of the Impossible is about us—you and me—waking up inside a dream, a novel, or a movie (call it culture, society, or religion) and realizing, with a start, that we are its authors. Even more stunning, we realize that none of it is real (to the extent that it pretends to be literal, stable, and absolute), and that all of it is real (to the extent that it reflects and expresses the Consciousness that projected it). Realization is the insight that we are being written, that we are caught in a story we did not write. Authorization is the decision to do something about it. If Realization involves the act of reading the paranormal writing us, Authorization involves the act of writing the paranormal writing us. What the film is finally about, then, is us becoming our own Authors of the Impossible.
All that being said, let's go to part one of an interview I did with Jeff:


Jeff, tell us about the basic premise of Authors of the Impossible.


The basic premise of the book is that paranormal experiences, as anomalous events that possess both objective and subjective dimensions, do not and cannot be fit into our normal dualistic way of looking at the world as either "material" or "mental." They can, however, be fruitfully approached as "living stories" or as "physical meanings" that are appearing in our world.

One of the thrulines in the book is the essential malleability of what we call reality. How would you explain that concept to a (relatively intelligent) novice?

Our experience of reality is always filtered through our psyches and its linguistic, cultural, social, and biological conditioning. Different such conditionings produce different experiences of reality, different possibilities, and so different impossibilities. Reality is thus not stable as we move from culture to culture or temporal period to temporal period. It shifts, morphs, and moves. And--and this is the cool part--we have some power of how it is shaped and appears to us through these various linguistic, cultural, and social filters.

How have your peers in Academia responded to the work?

It's too early for that. Reviews generally take a year, believe it or not. I've received some very positive feedback via correspondence and conversation, though. My sense is that intellectuals are fascinated by this stuff, like everyone else.

We've seen certain writers work in relative obscurity- or are even shunned by the mainstream- in their lifetimes- do you foresee a future in which Jacques Vallee or Bertrand Méheust are taken more seriously by people outside UFO/paranormal circles?

I certainly hope so. That's one big reason I wrote this book. To get serious readers to take these wonderful writers more seriously.

We've seen Philip K Dick become more highly regarded by the Intelligentsia- could something similar happen to Charles Fort, or is his work too weird?

I don't know why not? Though Fort did not really tell stories like Dick did. That's one big reason Dick has been embraced by Hollywood. His work lends itself to story-telling, because it IS storytelling.

So how does the normal person sense this? Or do they?

A normal person senses this precisely in those anomalous events we call "paranormal." Individuals who have traveled a great deal or lived in another culture also know this intuitively.

Why is the UFO topic so heated up these days?

Well, that's an easier one: because many, many UFO sightings violate our understanding of how reality works and our sense of place in the universe. If these things are really happening, and I really do think they are happening, then our science and our self-understanding are both seriously challenged. Any system, be it religious or scientific or political, will resist these kinds of profound challenges through a kind of immunological response. That is, the system will surround and eject the anomalous or problematic presence like an invading bacteria or disease. In the more poetic terms of Charles Fort, the Dominant will "damn" the offending datum.

Has the nonphysical reality of UFOs become a dogma unto itself?

Not mine.

The reason I ask is because in UFOlogy circles you'll have your self-appointed "Vallee fundamentalists" who shut out all opposing views as to the physicality of UFOs. Why do so we seldom hear the argument that stories of djinn and fairies were in fact close encounters that people simply pasted folklore and religious dogma over?


Vallee himself insists on the physical dimensions. He also insists on the folkloric dimensions. He insists on BOTH. That's what makes him Jacques Vallee. I too am a both/and thinker, not an either/or thinker. As for the founders, yes, they were most likely very porous to these sorts of experiences, but I would not say that the dogmas were "pasted over" their experiences. I would say that the doctrines emerged from these experiences and enabled other people later to have similar sorts of experiences. The problem, of course, always comes in when the religious tradition insists on only its doctrines, only its practices, etc. That's always a mistake. And it has produced untold violence and suffering in human history.

Of the most famous UFO abduction cases, which strike you as the most likely to be a report of a real, physical event?


This is a tough one for two reasons. First, I do not make the equation of "real" and "physical," as I think there are entire realms of reality that are not "physical" or even "material" in the sense we usually mean those terms, so I think that UFO encounters could be very real and not at all physical. Second, I find it difficult because I am not an expert on UFOs, that is, I do not have any experience in the field with such things. I would point the reader to the very recent Wonders in the Sky of Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck as a kind of model of best practice here.

Does the rise in visibility in the media on the UFO topic somehow translate into credible contacts, meaning not just hysteria or hoaxes?

These are not all hoaxes, and I'm not sure "hysteria" explains anything at all. In my mind, both "explanations" are just intellectual cop-outs, that is, refusals to think before the abyss.


TO BE CONTINUED

21 comments:

  1. Wow, I haven't heard of this book before, but it really sounds like my kind of thing. Will definitely check it out.

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  2. Since the 70s some kind of horrid pessimistic rank conservatism has taken over science. We are simply automatons of carbon, nothing exists that hasn't already been understood, we shouldn't bother trying to do anything interesting with technology because it's either impossible or we don't have the resources, and we're about to all die in ecological armageddon anyway.

    Interstellar flight? Impossible. Mental capacities that are not understood? Impossible. Peace and prosperity? Forget it, we're all about to die in a Malthusian die-off.

    I do not dare hope that this is coming to an end. I do not dare hope.

    The scientists that gave us space flight, vaccines, atomic energy, the net, the human genome, and countless other things were of a fundamentally and radically different character. If you look into their backgrounds and read their works carefully, you will see that they were open minded. Not so open that their brains fell out, but they understood the fact that the universe is not limited to what we happen to know right now. They were willing to entertain possibilities and investigate them.

    Many were also into some very far out things, albeit maybe a bit quietly. I would estimate that more than 50% of them credited something "shamanic" (entheogens, visions, etc.) with some of their breakthroughs and insights. I know Watson, Oppenheimer, Freeman Dyson, and several others said or alluded to as much.

    These were people who saw visions of spirals that turned out to be the structure of DNA and who designed atomic starships with paper and slide rules.

    The present crop of dogmatic pessimists and skeptics are not fit to lick dog crap from the bottom of these peoples' shoes.

    Could the net and the breakdown of top-down preaching systems of communication give us another wave of people like this?

    I dare not hope. I dare not hope.

    Seriously though. To hell with whatever horrid thing crawled out and devoured the mind of humanity in the 70s.

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  3. Awesome, AWESOME awesomeness.

    Nothing more to add, really.

    Peace

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  4. Except,

    If anyone here in the Secret Sun Comments Community want to read information pertaining to themes of a fusion between genuine reason and the impossible, as elegantly outlined here in Chris's post, they could visit my blog. You can find it here:

    http://voicesfromthefiction.blogspot.com/

    Peace.

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  5. P.S.

    I'd never heard of Jeff Kripal until this post. Chris, if you mentioned him in previous posts I must have missed it. I'd urge everyone reading the comments section to check out his website. Again, awesomeness.

    Thank you, brother.

    Peace

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  6. Excellent, it looks like another book to add to the endless pile ;-)

    Chris, i don't know if you've seen this, but Alan Moore's essay "Fossil Angels" has been posted on-line. It was originally written for KAOS 15, but went missing in action when writer/editor/publisher Joel Biroco decided to end his involvment in western-style occultism and closed the shutters on KAOS.

    http://glycon.livejournal.com/13888.html

    cheers,

    Brooke

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  7. Great interview Chris! Just have one concern of his investigatory direction, and that might be on the UFO issue. I tend to support the non-Fortian nature of the event, ie. I'm one of those physical phenomena exclusivists. I've been around the UFO's, we have a family cattle ranch where actual cattle mutilations have taken place! I've touched the mutilated cattle myself! Now where the UFO's come from physically? I think other planets, but who knows? I listen mostly to the work of Linda Moulton Howe in this area. Other that that, GREAT MIND ENRICHING MATERIAL CHRIS!

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  8. It would have been great if the works of Brian Whitworth and Thomas Campbell were also included in this movie.

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  9. Jeff Kripal sounds much like Patrick Harpur, who believes that consciousness is everything, structured by myth. We ARE stories. It's great stuff "The History Of The Imagination" being the greatest subtitle ever. He calls the paranormal "the daemonic", you know- the spirits of place, water nymphs, guardian angels, leprecauns, UFO's...shamanic reality...

    If everything is consciousness, and the real evidence points that way very strongly, why this need to believe in "nuts and bolts" UFO's Chris? I think we would have a few of those "nuts and bolts" by now. Of course as Jeff says, they are physical and not physical. Aliens that have figured out inter dimensional travel thru layers of consciousness couldn't possibly be interested in our physicality. What a bore- but might they be interested in manipulating our group identity?

    How consciousness becomes physical is the unknown science.

    What myth tells the story of the tension between liberty and control? The tension between the individual and the collective? Conscience and responsibility against total freedom? These tensions of the three dimensions (human emotion) create much of our political culture, and imagination is all we have.

    Why some humans have psychically bonded in an effort at total material and mental control, while hiding behind Jesus masks and eagle emblems, "colonizing the imagination", using every possible cultural artifact to achieve this goal- what myth is that? Or is it just my imagination?

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  10. Chris that is spot on. I don't watch the box much but authors of the mind has to be watched. Your a star!

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  11. I’m taking a course on critical theory, and we’re currently discussing the ideas of Michel Foucault. Some of the concepts typically associated with him seem especially relevant, including “intersubjectivity.” In other words, knowledge and truth transcend the strict categories of objective and subjective outlooks. Rather, they derive from the interplay of various discourses, as well as our individual experiences in making sense of the universe.

    From the interview with Jeff Kripal:

    The basic premise of the book is that paranormal experiences, as anomalous events that possess both objective and subjective dimensions, do not and cannot be fit into our normal dualistic way of looking at the world as either "material" or "mental." They can, however, be fruitfully approached as "living stories" or as "physical meanings" that are appearing in our world.

    This might be an area of study for me down the road… something about how people search for information about “the impossible,” and how they might arrive at more “objective” notions of truth while sorting through hoaxes. But then, there’s the netherworld you talked about last week, which seems to render notions of truth more complex.

    The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple. – Oscar Wilde

    Jason

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  12. I want to share this with you'll. I have been following the recent NYC 'UFO' events, and even statrted following this new blog that was focusing on it. Some of the commenters were accepting the balloons and airplane show display explanation. However in the latest blog there's beem presented eye witness acounts that dont sound like balloons or an airshow, or clear planets stars are what was going on---but judge for youself. Also I found that this event had been predicted by a Mr Fulham on the very day--October 13th (eat yer heart out Blossom Goodchild, hehe) who I will link here to. Hmmmmm
    http://ufodisclosurecountdownclock.blogspot.com/2010/10/comparing-eyewitness-reports-of-nyc-ufo.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cahTcLLn9Uk&feature=player_embedded

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  13. "It sometimes seems to me that we are all afflicted with an urge and possessed by a longing for the impossible. The reality around us, the three-dimensional world surrounding us, is too common, too dull, too ordinary for us. We hanker after the unnatural or supernatural, that which does not exist, a miracle.

    As if that everyday reality isn't enigmatic enough! In fact, it can happen to every one of us that suddenly, with ecstasy in our hearts, we feel the rut of daily life fall away from us for a moment. It can happen that we become receptive to the unexplainable, to the miracle that surrounds us continuously. It is the miracle of that same three-dimensional spatiality in which we trudge along daily, as on a treadmill. That concept of spatiality reveals itself sometimes, in rare moments of lucidity, as something breathtaking."
    -M.C.Escher

    (From "The Impossible", Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite p.135)

    ***

    I have said it before, but I would like to thank you again, wholeheartedly, for the work you do on this blog. If you'll permit, a short tale...

    A little over a year ago, I reached the culmination of a very personal experiment in synchronicity, patterned after the symbolic game imagined in Hesse's Magister Ludi/Glass Bead Game novel (along with some conceptual backing from Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid). The locus of my meditations, which played out over hundreds of interconnected public forum posts and links, was literally the concept of "THE IMPOSSIBLE" (this title, in fact, completed the dialectical trio of masks I "performed" under, alongside the handles of "THE_RUPTURE" and "THE RAPTURE").

    Without going into too many of the specifics here, your recent post on "The Netherworld" brought the project startlingly back to mind: in addition to your mention of the impossibly charged term at hand, coming on the heels of the similarly-charged 10/10 date, the article resonated with my own "in-game" associations around Barthes' concept of "The Third Meaning".

    Unfortunately, though, while I still retain some satellite blog posts to verify the working structures I had built within the project, it appears the synchronistic and poetic proofs I'd amassed have slipped back into the ether: I was informed just this morning by a forum administrator that, due to a server malfunction earlier this year, all of the relevant threads have been lost.

    I had intended my experiment, if actively engaged, to be a public testament to Mind and the interconnected possibilities inherent in everything beyond the binary, from the most sublime to the most mundane (a personal extension, if you will, of Elie Wiesel's "Why I Write: Making 'No' Become 'Yes'" essay and Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy concepts). I struggled with my own fears and was met with the disinterested doubts of many others in the process, but I feel the attempt was worthwhile in itself. I live with its effects.

    So, longer story short, while my mini-mandala of meaning has been brushed away, I regularly find in your Secret Sun (and suspect I will find in Mr. Kripal's book as well) new affirmations and intimations of a shared Impossible Dream, in rainbows.

    In meaningful appreciation-
    *

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  14. "It sometimes seems to me that we are all afflicted with an urge and possessed by a longing for the impossible. The reality around us, the three-dimensional world surrounding us, is too common, too dull, too ordinary for us. We hanker after the unnatural or supernatural, that which does not exist, a miracle.

    As if that everyday reality isn't enigmatic enough! In fact, it can happen to every one of us that suddenly, with ecstasy in our hearts, we feel the rut of daily life fall away from us for a moment. It can happen that we become receptive to the unexplainable, to the miracle that surrounds us continuously. It is the miracle of that same three-dimensional spatiality in which we trudge along daily, as on a treadmill. That concept of spatiality reveals itself sometimes, in rare moments of lucidity, as something breathtaking."
    -M.C.Escher

    (From "The Impossible", Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite p.135)

    ***

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  15. I have never heard of Bernard Meheust and can't find anything online. Who is he?

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  16. That book - Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (commonly GEB - it says this about it on wiki...

    "In its February 19, 2010 investigative summary on the 2001 anthrax attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that Bruce Edwards Ivins was inspired by GEB to hide secret codes based upon nucleotide sequences in the anthrax-laced letters he sent in September and October 2001. He used bolded letters, as suggested on page 404 of the book. He attempted to hide the book from investigators by throwing it in the trash."

    Sounds like a serious book.

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  17. This is a powerful blog man. I had only skimmed it before before I shared about the real weird shit going down in NYC. But I am reading this now. Now whther my very brief skim before had registered I dont know. But I was spontaneously putting some notes down beofer all about the tales---Ie., whe we dream, our dream life tells stories. mythology is a bigger version of this. But it has been hijacked by a controllingmindsetS which want to IMPOSE A story--a rigid one set in stone. As far as I am aware the first mystical school to do this was the Orphics.
    We are in this weird story now (reading this--just the first bit and especially the picture http://rense.com/general92/fifth.htm - inspired me thinking this, and yours SHO will!) . ARE the psychopaths not aware of their deeper consciousness making stories and so get lost in bloodshed and all kinds of self-destructive horrors, and as we become more aware of these deeper stories......?

    It is late here now, but look foreward to really exploring this blog. I really dig the understanding of the mysterious meeting between 'real' and 'not-real', better terms may be needed LOL

    Later :)))

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  18. This is the kind of thing I try to teach people. Can we count on a sequel?

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  19. Ya know, this is one those things that appear at exactly the right time, in the right place. Can't wait to read this book, and yea, he's preaching to the choir.

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  20. As I said I am very fascinated by this subject. I am aware that there is an 'interface' between what we term 'nature' and 'spirit', which has become 'mind/mental' and 'matter'--though is really same 'problem. And when we look at history we notice that different camps belonging to those categories set up shop--hence examly 'Idealism'--everything is spirit/consciousness/mind, and 'materialism/physicalism'--everything is matter. So thoufghout many of the myths, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and sciences we have this long in-grained presupposition don't we? Like jeff Kripal says the either/or presumption

    AND that especially the UFO phenomemon seems to encourage the getting over this schism, and change the story. Help us change the story.

    I mean the story we in--whats it like. More and more it has become very mythical-like. The evil elite trashing Mother Earth, and us--the slaves--fearful of what they may do next, and in awe of what they have DONE. The truth being very harrowing to look at, or contemplate. Some say they have contaminated the whole Middle Easter regiion with the 'silent killer' depleted uranium for a horrible example

    THAT story will ACTUALLY affect such horrific deformities in unborn babies that it is hard to look full on at their form!! They have no luxury of playing with wonder 'is it physical or menal or...?' they are THAT. That could be me or you. It is utter horror that such as that can happen to a human being.

    I am just pointing this out because it is the reality. these stories can really do nasty shit to us, and one and all. So the wondering about this must take on a sense of urgency.

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