Monday, October 25, 2010

Demand the Impossible, Part 2: Creating New Impossibilities

If you haven't already, please read part one of this discussion here.

CK: How do the authors you choose to focus on process this shifting reality? In other words how can they justify this seemingly imperceptible fluidity to themselves as rational beings?

Jeff Kripal: Reason does not exhaust who we are and how we know. We also know the world through intuition, instinct, dream, altered states, meaningful coincidences, precognitions, and so on. No author I treat would deny reason, nor would I. They would simply question reason's ability to exhaust the nature of the real.

So what are the nuts and bolts of the Impossible? Is this something that we will understand through quantum mechanics, or is this like a carrot at the end of a celestial stick that is ultimately driving our evolution?

I am suspicious of any future promise of the scientific method to "explain" paranormal experiences, although I can well see how better science might make room for such events in its modeling. Honestly, I think this is part of the problem, that is, I think one of the major reasons we have not properly appreciated and understood psychical phenomena is that we imagine that they can only be fitted into the scientific method, that there are no other ways of knowing the world other than science. The result, of course, is that whatever dimensions of that world that do not happen to fit into this kind of objectivism and materialism get "erased" as unreal, illusory, etc. We thus fail to understand them at all.

How would you respond to a typical skeptic, who'd charge that this is all imaginary; that cold, hard reality is a constant?

Reality is cold and hard only to those who approach it with the conviction that it is cold and hard. Scientific materialism is a worldview like any other. It is astonishingly useful to do all sorts of things with, so it is obviously partially true, but it itself cannot establish itself as an absolute and final truth. Most of our experiences, moreover, do not support it.

That is why scientific materialism always excludes first-person experience as "anecdotal" (a true cop-out) and denies the existence of the subject or psyche on its own terms. It cannot account for the nature of consciousness qua consciousness. So it denies that it exists at all. Which is absurd.

One of the side effects of looking into these matters can be a sense of hopelessness (Keel, especially), which is endemic in our society now anyway. What gives you hope and keeps you engaged in topics that many of your peers might simply dismiss?

Ultimately, I think the paranormal phenomena are immensely hopeful and expansive, as they suggest, to me anyway, a form of consciousness so great and so grand that we cannot imagine it other than in religious or "divine" terms. I am not suggesting that these things are signs of "God," but I am suggesting that they are signs of a kind of superconsciousness that would raise our estimation of human nature immeasurably.

Our egos, social selves, or religious identities, of course, are not always ready for this expansion, and so they experience this form of superconsciousness as threatening, terrifying, dark, and so on. Keel was a very honest observer here, but his books also contain an unmistakable "mystical" streak that is ultimately positive and at least potentially expansive and hopeful.

Are people like Vallee, Keel or Fort simply strange attractors? Meaning are they keyed into an aspect of reality - on more than just a theoretical basis - that many others can not experience? And what creates this kind of individual?

Very simply, what I think is that human beings are normally too well put together to experience such things, but that in those situations in life where the ego is temporarily compromised or even erased (car wrecks, serious trauma, psychopathology, yes, and psychedelics), the real comes "rushing in" because it CAN now. It is not being "blocked" or "filtered out" by the brain and a healthy ego. I am not suggesting that such experiences are pathological, but I am suggesting that pathology is one, of many, ways to catalyze them

When you read about ancient religious figures you see that 'intuition, instinct, dream, altered states, meaningful coincidences, precognitions, and so on' are the actual basis of their experience. Do you feel that fact is threatening to people- that there's this big need for the skies to literally open and the answer from on high to be handed down?

If you mean, do I think that the paranormal is threatening to religious systems because it implies that institution and mediation are not always necessary, yes, I think that. The paranormal is as demonized in religion as it is in science.

You're at the leading edge of a very strange and still unformed impulse that takes the Impossible seriously. Do you this developing into a movement, or is the Impossible too subjective to act as a unifying principle?

I certainly do not want to be part of yet another movement, much less another religion. We have quite enough of those, don't we? I would rather help catalyze a new way of thinking and being in the world, something more akin to an artistic movement or school of thought. I'm just trying to think about this stuff honestly. I'm just trying to describe what I see. I don't claim any omniscience here.

You've had a close relationship with Esalen- do you see that institution returning on a larger scale to dealing more directly with the Impossible? If not, do you see other institutions taking all of this more seriously?

I'm a huge fan of Esalen and any other institution that attempts to wander into these "third realms" beyond reason and beyond belief. My sense here is that such places fill incredibly crucial roles in our society, and that they are functioning as "signals from the future" of new ways of organizing our knowledge, our societies, and, perhaps most important of all, our relationship to the natural world.

The past ways and the present ways are certainly not working. Part of this future envisioning will certainly involve what I call the Impossible, that is, it will involve embracing more and more of reality into a fuller and fuller vision of human nature and its astonishing scope. That is all, in the end, I am really asking for: that we not underestimate ourselves; that we appreciate just how weird and wonderful the human being is as an expression of the immeasurably larger and weirder evolving cosmos; that we come to know our own supernature.

For more information of Jeff and his upcoming documentary, click here.